The Korea Herald


[Newsmaker] Key suspects revealed in deadly Sewol sinking

By Park Hyung-ki

Published : April 21, 2014 - 21:47

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Chonghaejin Marine president Kim Han-sik. ( Yonhap) Chonghaejin Marine president Kim Han-sik. ( Yonhap)
Behind the tragic ferry tale engulfing the country and its people in despair lies two key characters wanted as suspects for questioning over the sunken ship off the southwest coast.

They are the owners of a company that owns Chonghaejin Marine Co., the owner and operator of the Sewol ferry, in which hundreds of passengers, mostly high school students, remain trapped and missing.

They are brothers, surnamed Yoo, who have a combined 38.88 percent stake in I-One-I Holdings, a management consulting firm that is a part owner of Chonghaejin Marine Co.

Chonhaiji, a shipyard block assembler owned by I-One-I, is the biggest shareholder in the Sewol ferry operator with a 39.4 percent stake, followed by Chonghaejin Marine Co. president Kim Han-sik’s 11.6 percent and I-One-I’s 7.1 percent ownership, according to a regulatory audit filing.

The Yoo brothers, who have remained out of sight during the catastrophe, have been banned from traveling overseas as authorities expanded the scope of their investigations amid the public outcry against the ferry company and its key figures, including the captain and president Kim.

What is more interesting is that the Yoo brothers have been found to be the sons of Yoo Byeong-eon, who has been linked to an unsolved case involving loan sharking, a religious cult and a mass suicide in 1987.

Back then, the senior Yoo was a priest of an underground religious cult with close ties to former President Chun Doo-hwan, and ran a company that operated ferries on the Han River until it went bankrupt.

Yoo was one of prime suspects questioned over the 1987 incident when investigators uncovered more than 30 dead bodies of members of a religious cult, which he was affiliated with.

Investigators then pursued various leads to determine whether the case involved mass murder or suicide.

In the end, the case was left unsolved, and the elder Yoo was sentenced to four years in prison on charges of fraud that were traced back to loan sharking, which was then mostly part of unregulated business related to organized crime.

Now, his two sons, who had carried out the family business with lax safety measures, will be sitting under strong lighting for questioning, along with 40 other key figures, including Chonghaejin Marine Co. president Kim and crewmembers.

As calls from the public for justice and accountability for the accident increase while President Park Geun-hye likened the disaster to murder, investigations will get tougher as the whole world watches closely to see what verdict Korea will bring in.

The irresponsible captain of the Sewol is likely to face a life sentence in prison not only because for negligence but also for trying to hide the truth.

It is only a matter of time before authorities zero-in on this case. It would be wise for the culprits to come clean and tell the truth, which would set everyone grieving over the tragedy free.

By Park Hyong-ki (