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Chief of Sewol firm gets 10 years

A district court on Thursday handed down a prison term of 10 years to Kim Han-shik, chief of Chonghaejin Marine Co., the operator of the sunken ferry Sewol, for neglecting the safety of the vessel.

Eight other officials of the marine company were given prison sentences ranging from three to six years, and two officials were handed suspended jail terms, the Gwangju District Court said.

They included the executive in charge of maritime affairs, surnamed Ahn, who was given six years in prison with a criminal fine of 55 million won ($50,000) and the executive director, surnamed Kim, who was sentenced to five years in prison.

The court said in its verdict that that chief Kim, 72, had glossed over the risks of overloading the Sewol with freight early this year. It also said that Kim was informed of the ferry’s weakened ability to recover left-and-right balance when it tilted due to an expansion in the number of cabins several years ago.

The verdict also said that Kim had caused financial damages to the company via embezzlement and breach of trust, and handed over the irregular gains to Yoo Byung-eun, who was found dead in June. Yoo was the de facto owner of Chonghaejin Marine and the Sewol.

Chonghaejin Marine Co. was set up in 1999 to replace Semo Marine Co., which went bankrupt in 1997 in the wake of a series of scandals.

Chonghaejin Marine acquired ships and other assets held by Semo Marine Co., and Yoo’s two sons secured ownership of Chonghaejin through a system of cross-shareholding.

The Supreme Prosecutors’ Office has attributed the cause of the April 16 ferry disaster to cargo overloading and poor steering by a Sewol crew member.

It added during a news briefing that the Korea Coast Guard’s negligence during rescue activities contributed to the large number of deaths.

Meanwhile, former confidants of the late Yoo have partly admitted the allegation that Chonghaejin Marine and its affiliates were exploited as funding tools of the ferry tycoon, who died at age 73.

The sister firms of Chonghaejin included I-One-I Holdings, Ahae, Dapanda and Hankook Pharm Co. and a large portion of their employees were devotees of the heretical Salvation Sect, which was led by Yoo.

Chiefs of the units argued that they were pressured to conduct the intragroup deals by Yoo’s close aide Kim Phil-bae, who has reportedly fled to the United States, and Yoo’s second son Hyuk-kee. Investigators have yet to capture Kim and Yoo Hyuk-kee.

By Kim Yon-se (