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Coast Guard official probed on Sewol link

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Published : 2014-07-16 21:26
Updated : 2014-07-16 21:26

The prosecution is investigating a senior Coast Guard official over his alleged engagement in a corruption scandal in the shipping industry. He was a devotee of the Salvation Sect, which is led by Sewol ferry owner Yoo Byung-eun.

The Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office said Wednesday that it summoned Lee Yong-wook, who has worked as a director general of the Korea Coast Guard and an incumbent official, for two hearings ― on July 14 and July 15 ― over the allegation.

Lee was found to have worked for the now-defunct Semo Corp. from 1991 to 1997. Semo Corp. was reborn as Chonghaejin Marine Co., the operator of the ill-fated Sewol.

Runaway Yoo Byung-eun was chairman of Semo Corp. and has been the de facto owner of Chonghaejin Marine and the leader of the Salvation Sect. The prosecution has yet to arrest the 73-year-old Yoo, who is suspected of conducting a variety of business irregularities and glossing over the group’s vessel safety.

According to the prosecution, Lee had worked for the shipping department at Semo Corp. “After attaining a doctorate from Pusan National University on the back of scholarship funds from Semo Corp., he entered the Korea Coast Guard through a special employment program,” a prosecutor said.

When the Sewol sank on April 16, investigators alleged that Lee, who was serving as the director general of the Coast Guard’s intelligence and investigation division, could exercise his formerly individual relations with Semo Corp. or the religious sect.

According to prosecutors, the 53-year-old suspect reportedly said that he “wound up his relations with the Salvation Sect about 10 years ago and was not in a position to affect the Sewol probe, which was initiated by the extraordinary investigation team, composed of dozens of prosecutors and police officers.”

Though Lee is still a member of the Korea Coast Guard, he was dismissed from the director general post earlier this year.

The Coast Guard faces its biggest-ever crisis due to the Sewol ferry disaster. Last week, a Gwangju court held the first hearing in the trial for maritime affairs officials indicted on charges of taking bribes in return for approving the ferry operator’s cabin-extension proposal despite risks of heavy pressure on the vessel.

According to the prosecution, a commander of the East Sea Coast Guard has been under suspicion of taking gifts worth millions of won from a group of vessel owners when he was working as the chief of the Incheon Coast Guard’s maritime safety division last year.

By Kim Yon-se (