U.S. judge won’t block extradition linked to 2014 South Korea ferry sinking

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FILE PHOTO: A sign is placed between life vests signifying the 304 victims of sunken ferry Sewol during a protest demanding South Korean President Park Geun-hye's resignation in Seoul

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK – A U.S. judge on Monday refused to block South Korea from seeking the extradition of a man wanted on embezzlement charges related to a 2014 ferry sinking that killed 304 people.

U.S. District Judge Cathy Seibel in White Plains, New York, rejected Yoo Hyuk-Kee’s claim that there was no probable cause to support his extradition on seven charges he faces.

She also said it was for the U.S. Department of State and not judges to decide whether South Korea waited too long to seek Yoo’s extradition under its 1998 treaty with the United States.

Yoo, in his late 40s and also known as Keith Yoo, had been a fugitive for six years before his July 2020 arrest at his home in Pound Ridge, New York, a New York City suburb.

South Korean prosecutors said Yoo used his power as a business and religious leader to defraud various companies out of 29 billion Korean won ($24.6 million), including money that could have helped make the ferry safe.

“We continue to believe that the evidence South Korea has presented does not support extradition, and that Keith Yoo will not get a fair trial if extradited,” Yoo’s lawyer Paul Shechtman said in a phone interview.

Shechtman said Yoo plans to appeal.

The office of U.S. Attorney Damian Williams, which has said Yoo was extraditable, declined to comment.

Yoo is the second son of Yoo Byung-un, a businessman who founded the Evangelical Baptist Church in South Korea, and whose family had a stake in the operator of the Sewol ferry, which capsized off the country’s southwest coast in April 2014.

Investigators said the ferry was overloaded, structurally unsound, and traveling too fast. Many of those killed were high school students. Yoo Byung-un was found dead of unknown causes in an orchard two months after the sinking.

In U.S. court papers, Yoo’s lawyers said he had become a “scapegoat for tragedy” reflecting the South Korean government’s “animus” toward his family.

Seibel’s decision upheld a July 2 ruling https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/south-korea-can-seek-extradition-linked-2014-ferry-sinking-us-judge-2021-07-03 by U.S. Magistrate Judge Judith McCarthy.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)