Investigators Confirm Ownership of Ferry Operator

Yoo Byung-eon Yoo Byung-eon

The operator of the ferry Sewol listed the dubious businessman and cult leader Yoo Byung-eon as its official head a day before the ship sank, investigators have confirmed.

Yoo earlier denied any "financial relationship" with ferry operator Chongjaehin Marine.

But investigators of the ferry disaster obtained crucial evidence in several raids on the offices of Chonghaejin Marine and other affiliates, as well as the homes of executives.

One piece of evidence is a detailed list of all the company's staff prepared on April 15. It names Yoo as chairman of Chonghaejin Marine with employee number A99001, or employee No. 1 at the company, which was established in 1999.

He is listed as having worked there since Feb. 25, 1999, just a day before it opened for business.

Prosecutors believe Yoo was paid W10-15 million a month by Chonghaejin Marine in the five years since its establishment (US$1=W1,022). They have also obtained testimony from others that Yoo was directly involved in managing the ferry operator.

Prosecutors are looking into what role Yoo played in the fatal remodeling of the Sewol to carry more passengers and weight. If evidence links him to such acts, Yoo faces charges of manslaughter as well as malpractice.

He is already separately under investigation for embezzlement and tax evasion, not for the first time in his checkered career.

Meanwhile, investigators on Thursday arrested Chonghaejin Marine CEO Kim Han-sik at his home south of Seoul on charges of manslaughter. Prosecutors also sought arrest warrants for Yoo's son Hyuk-ki (42) and daughter Sum-na (48) as well as two other CEOs of affiliated businesses. The two live overseas, but prosecutors plan to cancel their passports and seek their extradition.

"They will face the consequences for their refusal to cooperate with the investigation," said a prosecution official.

englishnews@chosun.com / May 09, 2014 11:58 KST