A businessman whose household’s firm operated a ferry that sank off South Korea in 2014, killing greater than 300 individuals, will probably be flown to that nation from the US to face embezzlement expenses, officers mentioned on Thursday, after years of requests from Korean prosecutors.
The businessman, Yoo Hyuk-kee, 50, also referred to as Keith Yoo, is predicted to reach in South Korea, the place he faces trial on seven counts of embezzlement, on Friday. Since 2020 he had been held with out bond in New York State, the place he lived for years.
South Korea’s Justice Ministry mentioned in an announcement on Thursday that Mr. Yoo would arrive at Incheon Worldwide Airport on Friday at 5:20 a.m. native time.
An organization managed by Mr. Yoo’s household, the Chonghaejin Marine Firm, operated the Sewol ferry, which capsized off the southwestern coast of South Korea in April 2014. Most of those that died had been youngsters on a college journey, and the catastrophe traumatized the nation.
The ferry was dangerously overloaded and top-heavy, and a few crew members mentioned after the sinking that they’d by no means been educated in what to do in an emergency state of affairs. South Korea’s Coast Guard was late to the scene and poorly ready to assist when it arrived.
Prosecutors say that members of the Yoo household embezzled $169 million from a family-run church and from firms associated to their enterprise empire. They are saying the thefts diverted funds that the Chonghaejin Marine Firm would have spent on security measures, thereby contributing to the ferry catastrophe.
However the prosecutors haven’t alleged that the particular acts of embezzlement with which Mr. Yoo is charged contributed to the sinking.
Shawn Naunton, the lawyer who represents Mr. Yoo in the US, mentioned earlier this week that he was “deeply disillusioned” by the State Division’s determination to grant South Korea’s extradition request.
“That is an improper political prosecution that was launched within the days after the Sewol ferry sinking in an effort to distract the general public’s consideration from the failings of the federal government,” he mentioned.
The Chonghaejin Marine Firm was as soon as a sprawling conglomerate with ventures that included toys, ships and cosmetics. Mr. Yoo is accused of conspiring to defraud varied household companies of $23 million by sham contracts. In a civil trial, a Seoul courtroom in January 2020 ordered him to pay $46 million in damages to the federal government as a result of he was an inheritor to his father, whom the courtroom held chargeable for failing to forestall the ferry’s sinking.
Between 2014 and 2019, the South Korean authorities requested the US authorities seven occasions for assist in apprehending Mr. Yoo, in line with paperwork on file with the federal courtroom system. The State Division denied the primary six requests however accepted the ultimate one, forwarding it to federal prosecutors in October 2019.
In February 2020, federal prosecutors within the Southern District of New York acquired an arrest warrant and a certification that he was extraditable underneath a treaty between the 2 international locations, the information present.
The USA Marshals Service discovered Mr. Yoo at dwelling in Westchester County, the place he lived as a everlasting resident together with his spouse and three youngsters, arresting him on July 23, 2020. He has been detained with out bail since then.
Six of the counts Mr. Yoo faces contain cash he acquired from his household’s firms that South Korean prosecutors have referred to as overpayment. The seventh has do to with cash that Mr. Yoo spent on an artwork venture by his father, which prosecutors characterised as embezzlement. Mr. Yoo’s lawyer says his shopper did important work for the businesses, and that the transaction involving his father’s artwork was professional.
Quickly after his arrest, Mr. Yoo’s legal professionals started working to dismiss the extradition request, first submitting an unsuccessful movement in a district courtroom, then making an attempt once more in federal courtroom.
In November 2022, Mr. Yoo’s legal professionals requested the Supreme Courtroom to dam his extradition. Justice Sonia Sotomayor denied the request the identical month.
With the authorized battle to cease Mr. Yoo’s extradition exhausted, Mr. Yoo’s case went earlier than the State Division’s Workplace of the Authorized Adviser, the division that handles extradition, Mr. Naunton mentioned, including that he had made a number of arguments to the State Division.
Mr. Naunton mentioned he advised the State Division that it was “not possible” for Mr. Yoo to get a good trial as a result of the South Korean authorities had labeled him a fugitive. In its announcement on Thursday, the Justice Ministry referred to as him “the final abroad fugitive linked to the Sewol.”
“Keith was by no means a fugitive underneath U.S. regulation, underneath worldwide regulation, or underneath the phrases of the U.S.-South Korea extradition treaty,” Mr. Naunton mentioned. Mr. Yoo, who moved to the US in 1989, cooperated with prosecutors within the Southern District of New York once they appeared into his funds at South Korea’s request, his lawyer added.
Mr. Yoo’s extradition concludes a significant effort by the South Korean authorities to trace down individuals linked to the Sewol sinking. Investigators had been in search of his father, Yoo Byung-eun, when he was discovered useless two months after the ferry catastrophe.
Yoo Hyuk-kee’s older brother, Yoo Dae-kyoon, spent two years in jail for embezzlement.
Varied different Yoo relations, in addition to firm executives, have been convicted on embezzlement and different felony expenses. The captain of the Sewol is serving a life sentence for homicide; he and different crew members deserted ship with out instructing passengers to evacuate.
The household enterprise has largely disappeared, with the Chonghaejin license revoked and lots of belongings liquidated to compensate households of the victims. Nevertheless, South Korean prosecutors say they consider the household has hidden funds abroad, which they’ve sought to hint, to date with out success.