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Last Fugitive Linked to Ferry Disaster Extradited to South Korea

Maritime Activity Reports, Inc.

August 9, 2023

File photo: South Korea Coast Guard

File photo: South Korea Coast Guard

A South Korean businessman wanted for nine years by authorities was extradited from the United States last Friday to face charges linked to one of the country's worst maritime disasters in which over 300 people, mostly children, were killed.

Yoo Hyuk-kee was taken into custody on arrival from New York, where he had been fighting extradition to South Korea, where he faces embezzlement charges related to the company that operated the doomed vessel. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his bid to block the extradition.

Yoo, 50, also known as Keith Yoo, has denied the charges.

The Sewol ferry was found by government investigators to be structurally unsound and overloaded when it capsized in April 2014, killing 304 people including 250 children who were on a school trip.

The ship was owned and operated by Chonghaejin Marine, which was one of the companies held by I-One-I, an investment vehicle  controlled by Yoo Byung-un, Keith Yoo's father, who was found dead two months after the ferry accident after eluding authorities.

South Korean prosecutors have alleged Keith Yoo had defrauded various companies controlled by I-One-I.

The prosecutors have said the family's diversion of money contributed to the Sewol operator's financial deterioration, which led to the neglect of ship management and staff safety training and eventually the accident.

The businessman was met by reporters as he was led away by authorities from the Incheon International Airport and did not directly answer questions about the charges against him. 

"I feel they are the most unfortunate and sorrowful people in the world," Yoo said when asked how he felt about the families of the victims of the ferry disaster.

Yoo's lawyer, Shawn Naunton, said in November after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his bid to block extradition that the charges against him by South Korean authorities were "motivated by animus toward Keith and his family." 

South Korea's Justice Ministry said in a statement Yoo's return marks the end of the efforts to bring those who were fugitives overseas related to the Sewol disaster back to the country.

Yoo's sister was extradited from France in 2017 and served out a jail sentence. Two other people who had fled abroad and were brought back were executives at companies held by the family.

Another son of Yoo Byung-un has also served time in prison over the accident.

(Reuters - Reporting by Jack Kim / Editing by Ed Davies and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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