|A closed gate of Yoo Byung-eon’s house in Yeomgok-dong, southern Seoul (Yonhap)|
A transfer of assets between former Semo Group chairman Yoo Byung-eon and his eldest son has come under scrutiny with records suggesting illegal methods may have been used in the process.
Records show that Yoo’s real estate assets were purchased by his eldest son Dae-gyun during Semo Group’s liquidation, at the time of which the younger Yoo was aged 28-33.
The methods were allegedly used to avoid a loss of assets following the bankruptcy of Semo Group in 1997.
In 1998, the younger Yoo purchased a two-story villa in Daegu owned by his father. The house was put up for auction soon after the firm went bankrupt.
He also bought a 363-square-meter plot of land in Seocho, Seoul, in 2003. The land was initially sold in an auction to the CEO of an affiliate of Trigon Korea Co., of which the younger Yoo is the largest shareholder.
In a similar process, a two-story house in Seocho was purchased by the son with the CEO’s involvement.
In 2002, the younger Yoo bought another two-story house in Seocho. Records show that he bought the house from Lee Soon-ja, former CEO of Moonjin Media, another business under Yoo’s control. Lee purchased it in 1999 after Semo Group’s bankruptcy.
Despite the alleged circumstances, the chairman claimed he had no remaining assets and paid only 650 million won ($633,000) when the Korea Deposit Insurance Corporation claimed the 14.7 billion won debt in 2009.
Prosecutors said they will summon the chairman next week to question him further on allegations surrounding the owner family and affiliated firms.
The measure is seen as a step to pressure the chairman’s second-eldest son Hyeok-gi, Hankook Pharma chief Kim Hye-kyung and former Moonjin Media chief Kim Pil-bae, who have ignored the prosecution’s ultimatum to return to the country for the summons.
According to local reports, the prosecution will get more hints about the flow of money by questioning Hyeok-gi, who is deemed the apparent successor of the chairman, and Kim, who organized the chairman’s assets when she was his secretary.
Part of the investigation will focus on how Chonghaejin Marine Co. ― the operator of the Sewol and Semo Group’s affiliate ― was able to avoid punitive measures despite having had the largest number of accidents among ferry services over the past five years.
According to data compiled by the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, four passenger boats operated by Chonghaejin were associated with six accidents between 2009 and 2013, accounting for about 10 percent of the 59 accidents reported during the period.
The latest accident, which occurred off the coast of Jindo Island in South Jeolla Province, was the deadliest, killing at least 269 people and leaving 33 still unaccounted for.
By Suk Gee-Hyun (firstname.lastname@example.org)