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Sewol Owner Yoo rudely uses ambassadors to show off his‘popularity’The Korea Post willing to advise ambassadors to avoid embarrassment

There are times when ambassadors in Korea hesitate as they are not sure if their attendance at a Korean social function is appropriate or not. Sometimes they attend such a party and find themselves in a very awkward situation when the host turns out to be someone like Sewol Ferry Owner-Chairman Yoo Byung-eon (a nationwide target of criticisms) and proper protocol is absent. On request, The Korea Post would be willing to provide all the information it has concerning such hosts so that the ambassadors could avoid such an embarrassing situation.

▲Sewol Ferry has sunk under the water with only a small portion of the stern showing. Ship owner Chairman Yoo Byung-eon and his two sons on the “Most Wanted” List for interrogation on charges of involvement in the sinking of the ship and the death of the passengers and other casualties.

One example in point is a gala party which was hosted by Chairman Yoo Byung-eon at a deluxe hotel in Gangnam District in Seoul on Jan. 25, 2013 to celebrate the publication of his book, a collection of photographs he has taken.

Even at that time, Chairman Yoo was widely known for his suspected involvement in the notorious Odaeyang Religious Suicide Case, which has now turned out to be directly related with the ongoing case of Sewol Ferry through Chairman Yoo.

JTBC TV (closely related with Samsung and Joongang Ilbo) recently broadcast scenes from the party hosted by Yoo.

At the party, Chairman Yoo behind a rostrum on the stage loudly called out the name of the ambassador of a large country without properly using the title of honor (such as Your Excellency), asked him to stand up and then took picture of the ambassador from the rostrum using a large camera.

▲Photos show Chairman Yoo Byung-eon of the Semo Business Group, whom the Prosemcution believes to have been heavily involved in the sinking of the Sewol Ferry vessel and cases of corruption with the Korean Coast Guard.

It was an unusual and strange situation very seldom seen at social functions especially when the guest is a very, very important foreign envoy for the Republic of Korea.

Then he did the same thing to another ambassador, who is also very well known in Korea.

President Sohn Suk-Hee (concurrently) of the JTBC TV said that Chairman Yoo was using the ambassadors and a number of Korean civic figures such as popular actors and actresses to boast his ‘popularity’ in the diplomatic community as well as in Korean society.

Here are excerpts from a story by Yonhap News Agency dated April 24, 2014 concerning the relationship between Chairman Yoo Byung-eon and the Odaeyang Suicide Case as well as the Sewol Ferry Case:
Prosecutors said on April 22, 2014 that they are tracking down a flow of money from a mysterious religious group to the operator of a capsized ferry, as part of their widening investigation into the cause of the deadly accident.
Prosecutors suspect that funds from members of the religious group, the Evangelical Baptist Church, were used in business operations of Cheonghaejin Marine Co. and Yoo Byung-eon, a billionaire man whose family appears to control the shipping company.

Eight days after the deadly sinking of the 6,825-ton ferry Sewol in southwestern waters, which is likely to be recorded as one of the country's worst maritime disasters, at least 171 passengers have been confirmed dead, with some 130 others still missing.

On Wednesday, investigators of the Incheon District Prosecutors' Office raided the head office of Cheonghaejin Marine, the Sewol's operator based in the coastal city of Incheon, just west of Seoul, and some 20 offices of its affiliates, as well as the office of the Evangelical Baptist Church in Yongsan, central Seoul.

Prosecutors said they are analyzing accounting books seized from the church, suspecting that the religious group has exercised influence over the company's management.

An accounting staff member of the church, whose identity has been withheld, was called in by prosecutors Thursday to face questioning as a witness, prosecutors said.

"We called in the staffer to confirm allegations raised so far and details regarding the investigation," said an investigator.

The church was established by chief Yoo's father-in-law, Kwon Sin-chan, in the 1960s and is led by Yoo. It is widely considered a cult, with its some 20,000 followers including most of the senior officials of Cheonghaejin's affiliates and most of the Sewol's crew.

▲President Sohn Suk- hee of JTBC TV, who concurrently performs the role of a news anchor. Sohn cut his figure out as a very prominent anchor in Korea with an unusual ability to read the mind of the audience.

Yoo was also previously a member of the religious cult called Odaeyang, making him a suspect in the cult's 1987 mass suicide-murder. More than 30 people from his group were found dead, bound and gagged in a factory outside of Seoul. Investigators, however, found no evidence tying the event to Yoo.

While establishing 13 overseas units, along with another 13 domestic affiliates, the owner family was found to increase its fortune to more than 240 billion won (US$230.8 million), with more assets expected to be hidden.
The debt-ridden Cheonghaejin Marine is virtually a successor to Semo Marine, which went bankrupt in 1997, hit by a series of scandals, including a sinking of its cruise boat.

Cheonghaejin was set up in 1999 by taking over ships and assets held by Semo Marine's affiliate. Yoo's two sons control Cheonghaejin through a complicated ownership structure.

Some 40 percent of Cheonghaejin is owned by Chonhaiji Co., a shipbuilder controlled by I-One-I Holdings Co. Yoo's two sons hold a combined 40 percent in I-One-I Holdings.

Prosecutors said that they have raided another ferry owned and operated by Cheonghaejin Marine as part of their ongoing investigation.
The Ohamana, the ferry that plied the same Incheon and southern island of Jeju route as the Sewol, has also had engine trouble while at sea twice in the past few years. Allegations also have arisen over the possible overloading of the Ohamana.

Prosecutors also raided offices of a private entity responsible for inspecting and certifying ships, as part of their investigation into corruption in the shipping industry.

Investigators swooped on the head office of the Korean Register of Shipping (KR), a nonprofit organization in charge of inspecting and certifying vessels on behalf of the government, in the southern port city of Busan and another office in Incheon.

"The prosecution will thoroughly investigate illegal acts practiced in the shipping business in light of the Sewol accident and take stern legal actions against those who violated the law," said Bae Sung-beom, a lead investigator.
The KR approved the Sewol for operation in February after doing a safety check on more than 200 items, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said they are looking for any evidence of possible wrongdoing in relation to the safety inspection of the Sewol and whether KR officials were bribed in exchange for lax inspection.

Two KR officials were summoned by prosecutors to face questioning over the overall safety conditions of local ferries currently in operation, prosecutors added.

이경식 기자  edt@koreapost.com

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