Yoo Byung-eon, the fugitive de facto owner of ferry operator Chonghaejin Marine, personally ordered modifications to the ferry Sewol that are believed to have made the ferry more vulnerable to capsizing, investigators believe.
Yoo was informed about problems with the vessel after the modifications but did nothing to prevent the habitual practice of overloading the ferry to boost profits.
In a written arraignment read to Chonghaejin Marine CEO Kim Han-sik (72) and four other executives on Monday, prosecutors and police said the cabins and cargo bay of the vessel were expanded "at Yoo's instructions" after it was bought second-hand from Japan. Part of the extension work was done to create an exhibition space showcasing Yoo's photographs.
The modifications raised the ship's center of gravity, making it extremely vulnerable to toppling over. The ferry's maximum cargo capacity would have had to be reduced by 1,448 tons. But over the past year, Chonghaejin Marine did just the opposite, overloading the vessel 139 times to make around W2.9 billion in illicit profit (US$1=W1,024).
When Chonghaejin staff told Yoo of their concerns in January this year, Yoo allegedly told them to keep running the Sewol as usual and put up for sale another old ferry that was purchased earlier.
Investigators said Kim turned to Yoo for instructions on all major decisions involving the company.
Prosecutors said Yoo was deeply involved in managing Chonghaejin Marine and was aware of the problems infesting the vessel. He faces charges of negligence resulting in death.