Yoo Som-na, the third daughter of the chairman of the sunken ferry Sewol, has finally been extradited from France to South Korea. She will be flown under arrest to Incheon, where she will be arraigned on charges of embezzling $43 million from subsidiaries of Cheonghaejin Marine Co., the Sewol's owner and operator. Som-na was first arrested in Paris in May 2014, and she has fought against an extradition order in the French courts for three years.
"The French justice ministry notified us . . . that Yoo Sum-na's appeal on the extradition order was dismissed at its highest administrative court Conseil d'Etat and that all the necessary procedures have been completed in France," the Korean Ministry of Justice said in a statement.
Authorities believed that Som-na's father, Yoo Byung-eun, bore a significant share of responsibility for the disastrous ferry accident, which claimed the lives of more than 300 people. The police put up a $500,000 bounty for his arrest and initiated a sweeping manhunt, and Byung-eun was found dead about two months later. Other members of the Yoo family have already been prosecuted, and Som-na was one of two of Byung-eun's children still at large. Byung-eun's second son, Hyeok-gi, has so far managed to evade a warrant for his arrest.
Separately, the government of Korean Prime Minister Moon Jae-in plans to abolish the Ministry of Public Safety and Security, which Moon's predecessor established after the sinking in response to calls for reform. The ministry was assembled quickly after the disaster and is widely viewed as ineffective. The Korean Coast Guard, which was placed under the ministry’s control, will be spun off as a separate agency once again.
Sewol search nears completion
The search effort for the remains of nine missing victims of the sinking continues at the port of Mokpo, where experts are sifting through debris from inside the vessel's hull in order to locate personal belongings and human bones. On Monday, forensic scientists identified a fourth set of remains as belonging to passenger Lee Young-sook. The search party expects that it will finish its work towards the end of this month.
Once the on-site work is complete, a newly-established expert panel will reopen an investigation into the cause of the ferry's sinking. It will have a staff of 35, and it will include a hull survey, an examination of evidence from within the wreck and a review of the modifications and additions that the vessel's operator made prior to the accident. "We're . . . going to probe why the ferry's passenger and cargo spaces were expanded beyond capacity in the first place," said Kim Chang-joon, the head of the new commission. Previous reviews have concluded that additions to the vessel's upper decks and cargo overloading were primary factors in the Sewol's capsize and sinking.
Correction: Many outlets – including The Maritime Executive – have incorrectly described Chonghaejin's chairman, Yoo Byung-eun, as the Sewol’s owner. Yoo did not have any ownership interest in Chonghaejin: two of Yoo's sons, Yoo Dae-kyun and Yoo Hyuck-ki, controlled the largest stake in the firm through a series of holding companies. Prosecutors alleged that Yoo Byung-eun retained de facto control of the company, but not formal ownership. The Maritime Executive has corrected the coverage above to reflect this fact.