Final fugitive linked to ferry disaster is extradited to South Korea

Yoo Hyuk-kee was taken into custody on arrival in South Korea, having been fighting extradition from the US in New York. Yoo, 50, faces embezzlement charges related to the company that operated the ferry Sewol, which sank off the southwestern tip of South Korea in April 2014, killing more than 300 – many of them only teenagers.

Last year the US Supreme Court removed Yoo’s last impediment to his extradition.

In October 2020 Yoo had been arrested in the US on  embezzlement charges. He had been residing at his home in Westchester County, NY, and was arrested without incident.

Prosecutors in South Korea have said that rampant embezzlement by the Yoo family helped create unsafe conditions and practices on the Sewol ferry.

Yoo, who is also​ known by his English name, Keith Yoo, is a son of Yoo Byung-eun, whose family controlled the Chonghaejin Marine Company, the operator of the Sewol. The overloaded ferry capsized off the southwestern tip of South Korea in April 2014​ in the country’s worst disaster in decades.

The ferry was found by South Korean 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, Yoo senior was found dead two months after the ferry accident, having evaded the authorities.

South Korean prosecutors have alleged Keith Yoo had defrauded various companies that were 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. That, in turn, claim the prosecutors, led indirectly to the accident.

Yoo’s lawyer, Shawn Naunton, said last November after the US Supreme Court decision that the charges against him by South Korean authorities were “motivated by animus toward Keith and his family.”

Yoo’s sister was extradited from France in 2017 and served 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.