South Korea's Biggest Manhunt Ever Is Over

Yoo Hyuk-kee, wanted after 2014 sinking of Sewol ferry, was nabbed at home in New York
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 24, 2020 8:58 AM CDT
South Korea's Biggest Manhunt Ever Is Over
In this April 16, 2014, file photo, South Korean rescue helicopters fly over the ferry Sewol, trying to rescue passengers from the ship in waters off of Jindo, South Korea.   (Yonhap via AP, File)

He may not have been steering the ferry that sank six years ago in South Korean waters, but Yoo Hyuk-kee was nevertheless a wanted man. Now Yoo—also known as Keith Yoo—is in police custody in New York, accused with other family members of embezzling millions from the company that operated the ferry. Per the New York Times, a Justice Department spokeswoman says Yoo, 48, was arrested Wednesday at his home in Westchester after South Korea put in a request for his extradition. South Korean investigators say Yoo stole $23 million from companies kept afloat with funds from a church his father founded. Among those companies: Chonghaejin, the operator of the Sewol ferry that capsized in April 2014 off the South Korean island of Jindo, killing more than 300 people. Many of those who perished were high school students.

Prosecutors say the cash taken by the Yoo family could've been put toward safety measures for the vessel. They add that, to make up the shortfall caused by the embezzlement, the Sewol regularly transported too much cargo; it had double the cargo it should have on the day it sank. Yonhap notes that the Sewol tragedy, "one of Korea's worst maritime disasters ... triggered national soul-searching over the country's public safety management." The Times notes the country's search for the family members was its biggest manhunt ever. Yoo's father took his own life, while Yoo's brother spent two years behind bars for stealing almost $7 million from the various companies, including Chonghaejin. The Korea Times notes one of Yoo's sisters, also accused of embezzlement, was extradited to South Korea from France in 2017. (The Sewol's captain, Lee Joon-seok, was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the accident.)

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