Ferry Owner's Daughter Held for Questioning

Angela Jung, June 8, 2017, 9:51 a.m.

The daughter of Yoo Byung-eon, the shipping tycoon and cult leader widely blamed for the 2014 ferry disaster, arrived back in Korea Wednesday after losing a three-year battle against extradition from France. Yoo Sum-na (51) was handcuffed and taken in for questioning on arrival at Incheon International Airport. She is formally accused of breach of trust and embezzling funds from Cheonghaejin Marine, which operated the ill-fated ferry Sewol that sank off the southwest coast in 2014, killing more than 300 passengers.

"The embezzlement allegation is simply preposterous," Yoo said as she faced a throng of reporters. "I have worked my entire life and earned money for my services."

Asked why she refused to return to Korea voluntarily, Yoo said, "I only sought protection under the law, regardless of whether it was a foreign country, to secure myself a fair trial. I think everybody remembers how those in power harshly, politically pushed ahead with the investigation."

"I never fled," she said. "I never received a single letter from the prosecution. I expect a fair trial now."

Yoo denied any involvement in the management of Cheonghaejin Marine, and claimed that her late father, an undischarged bankrupt, did not own the company.

"I do not believe news reports about my father being the de facto owner of Cheonghaejin Marine. The accusation is nonsensical. It is sheer media speculation."

She tearfully claimed to feel "heartbroken" about the victims "every time I have water on my hands. I know nothing would console the bereaved families, so I think I should mourn with them."

The superannuated ferry had been illegally modified and was dangerously overloaded at the time it sank and was apparently also taking a shorter, more dangerous route to save money.

Altogether Yoo is accused of embezzling W49.2 billion from publicly traded companies controlled by her late father, some of it in the form of bogus consultancy fees (US$1=W1,124). But the arrest warrant that led to her eventual extradition relates only W4.8 billion that could be proved persuasively at the time.

There is a three-year statute of limitations on embezzlement and breach of trust charges, and some of the allegations are no longer admissible in court. This probably explains why Yoo fought tooth and nail against her extradition until the deadline passed.

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