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[Ferry Disaster] Prosecutors detain ferry firm CEO

Chonghaejin owner family, aides face arrest

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Published : 2014-05-08 21:19
Updated : 2014-05-08 21:19

Investigators on Thursday detained the CEO of the Sewol’s operator as they sought to uncover the cause of the ferry accident.

Chonghaejin Marine Co. CEO Kim Han-shik was detained at his house in Bundang, Gyeonggi Province, after the court issued a warrant late Wednesday, officials said.

Charges against Kim include manslaughter, negligence and violation of the Ship Safety Act.

The prosecution also detained an auditor surnamed Park working for I-One-I Holdings ― a subsidiary of Semo Group ― and summoned a man surnamed Kim, an auditor of Damanda Co., a sales unit of Semo.

Four management-level staff of the firm have already been arrested, making Kim and Park the fifth and sixth Chonghaejin officials to be detained since the accident occurred on April 16. A total of 19 people are currently in custody related to the sinking.

Prosecutors also requested warrants to detain key figures linked to the owner of the Sewol’s de facto operator in a widening investigation into corruption allegations against the firm. 
Members of a parents’ organization hold candles in place of carnations in remembrance of the Sewol tragedy victims during a Parents’ Day rally in Seoul on Thursday. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

The suspected aides are Semo Group chairman’s son Yoo Hyeok-gi, former Moonjin Media chief Kim Pil-bae and Hankook Pharma chief Kim Hye-kyung, who have ignored investigators’ ultimatum to return to Korea to appear for the summons. Chonghaejin, Moonjin Media and Hankook Pharma are subsidiarys of Semo Group.

Prosecutors also requested a warrant for the former chairman’s daughter Sum-na, who is assumed to be in the country.

“We regret that they did not turn themselves in and that disadvantages will inevitably follow,” an official from the prosecution said. “We will immediately proceed with invalidating their passports and seek help to extradite the three staying abroad.”

The focus has also shifted to the mysterious relationship between Chonghaejin and former Semo Group chairman Yoo Byung-eon.

The investigation team on Thursday revealed an emergency contact list held by the shipping company that suggested Yoo was the de facto chief of Chonghaejin.

In the document, which was seized during a raid last month, Yoo is described as chairman, according to investigators.

The prosecution believes that Kim may have been implicated in Yoo’s alleged embezzlement and tax evasion, an accusation the company has denied.

Prosecutors also found that Yoo received tens of millions of won every month as an adviser to the company, and gave orders related to its business operations.

“We’re open to all possibilities regarding the direction of the investigation into Kim,” an official from the special investigation team told media.

Legal experts say Yoo could be charged with manslaughter if he is found to have been directly involved in the company’s poor management of the ferry.

Executives of the Sampoong Department Store were convicted of manslaughter after the building collapsed in 1995, killing more than 500 people. Prosecutors successfully argued that the executives’ poor approach to construction and overall maintenance had caused the accident.

Public opinion on the government’s investigation remains lukewarm. After the government appeared to have bungled its response operations and handling of the bereaved families, the country’s major newspapers expressed regret over the state’s bureaucratic system, reflecting a possible breakdown in public trust.

In an effort to contain the situation, the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries said Thursday it will cancel the license of Chonghaejin for the Incheon-Jejudo Island route.

The ministry added that it will pressure the operator to voluntarily drop licenses for two more routes ― the Incheon-Baengnyeongdo Island and Yeosu-Geomundo Island routes.

By Suk Gee-hyun (monicasuk@heraldcorp.com)

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