S Korea ferry disaster: Brother, aide of ferry firm owner grilled over corruption

S Korea ferry disaster: Brother, aide of ferry firm owner grilled over corruption
A family member of a missing passenger onboard the sunken Sewol ferry prays near yellow ribbons dedicated to the dead and missing passengers tied to a railing at a port in Jindo May 9, 2014.

Incheon prosecutors on Sunday questioned a brother and close aide of Yoo Byung-eon, de facto owner of the sunken ferry Sewol, tightening the net around the scandals involving the owner family.

Yoo Byung-il, the older brother of the former Semo Group chairman, was to be investigated for allegedly embezzling funds from the ferry's operator, Chonghaejin Marine Co.

Yoo's brother is believed to have received consultation fees of about 3 million won (S$3,660) from Chonghaejin Marine Co., while Yoo himself received 15 million won. Prosecutor will see if Yoo Byung-il received any other payments from the owner family's affiliates.

The investigation is also focusing on proving that the Yoos were directly involved in the affiliates' management. Prosecutors said they have secured testimonies that the chairman's elder brother had illegally intervened in the company's management, and also gave advice on the ship's possibly illegal remodeling.

Prosecutors found evidence proving that the chairman's oldest son, Dae-gyun, received monthly wages from affiliates that he did not own shares of. They ordered the son to appear for questioning on Monday.

Yoo Byung-il's summoning marked the first time a member of the owner family has been brought in for questioning during the investigators' corruption probe. The Yoos, believed to have siphoned off billions of won from their affiliates, have been eluding the prosecution's summons since the probe kicked off last month.

The authorities have issued an arrest warrant for the chairman's second son and daughter, who had been snubbing the questioning.

With the investigation into the family taking off, observers are saying the chairman himself is likely to be summoned within this week.

While closing in on the owner family, the prosecutors also continued to grill their close aides.

Chae Gyu-jeong, the head of Semo-affiliate Onzigoo Co. since 2008, was summoned Sunday. He was to be questioned for supposedly inflicting losses on his own company to help Yoo's family create a slush fund.

Chae, a former vice governor of North Jeolla Province, is believed to have used his political connections to act as a lobbyist for the Yoos.

On Saturday, the investigators interrogated actress Jeon Yang-ja, suspected to be in Yoo's inner circle. The 72-year-old, who is a member of a loosely Christian cult connected to Yoo, was questioned over her alleged role in helping the billionaire stash illegal funds.

Since the Sewol's sinking on April 16 off the country's southwestern coast, the joint police-prosecution investigation team found that Yoo, his family and his close associates may be involved in series of criminal activities including tax evasion, illegal real estate transactions and violating foreign exchange laws when transferring large sums out of the country.

As the probe went on, the ruling and opposition parties agreed to convene a special parliamentary session this month to discuss the follow-up measures for the deadly ferry sinking. Early Sunday, President Park Geun-hye held an emergency secretariat meeting to discuss matters related to the Sewol incident.

As of Sunday, bad weather hampered the search operation for the 29 passengers who went missing in the Sewol's sinking for the second day.

The 6,825-ton ferry Sewol was carrying an estimated 476 passengers when it capsized and sank off the southwestern island of Jindo. A total of 172 were rescued but 275 people were confirmed dead, most of whom were high school students on a field trip.

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