The eldest son of dead ferry owner Yoo Byung-eon went on trial on Wednesday along with his female bodyguard Park Soo-kyung.
Yoo Dae-kyun (44) faces charges of misappropriating about W7.39 billion (US$1=W1,015) from Chonghaejin Marine, the operator of the ferry Sewol which sank off the southwest coast on April 16, and other affiliated companies between May 2002 and December 2013.
Park has been charged with helping Yoo escape a nationwide manhunt.
Park appeared before the judge in a light green prison uniform and kept her head bowed. She briefly wept as she answered questions from the bench, in stark contrast to her icy demeanor before reporters after her arrest.
Park pled guilty to the charges and said in a written statement to the court that she helped the younger Yoo's escape because she had a close relationship with his family.
Yoo junior looked gaunt as he stood before the judge and stared at the table in front of him, nodding only when questioned by the judge. Asked whether he preferred to be tried before a jury, he shook his head.
Yoo admitted most of the embezzlement charges against him. But his lawyer said he did not use the money for personal purposes but to fund his late father's crackpot cult.
He also applied for court permission to attend his father's funeral on Saturday at the sect's sprawling compound in Anseong south of Seoul.
Yoo senior's widow and brother, who have also been arrested, applied for permission to attend the ceremony as well.
Oh Gab-riel, the elder Yoo's brother-in-law and former Korean ambassador to the Czech Republic, who has also been indicted for helping the fugitive escape, watched the trial from the gallery. He left the court later without answering questions from reporters.