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Sewol trials are still ongoing

Criminal cases have almost concluded, leaving on civil ones
Mar 24,2017
A series of trials concerning the sinking of the Sewol ferry is still ongoing in courts around the country, although nearly three years have passed since the tragedy.

The Sewol sank on April 16, 2014, off Jindo, an island in South Jeolla. Of the 476 people on board, 304, mostly students from Danwon High School in Ansan, Gyeonggi, on a field trip to Jeju Island, died.

At the Seoul Central District Court, a lawsuit filed by a group of surviving families of the victims against the ferry operator, Cheonghaejin Marine Company, and the state to seek compensations, is still ongoing.

A group of 352 surviving family members demanded compensation of 10.3 billion won ($9.2 million) from the company and the state, arguing that the government is responsible for the expanded losses for its passive initial response to the accident. They also said Cheonghaejin Marine is responsible for the sinking, because of its overloading of cargo on the ferry.

The owners of the freight trucks on the ferry also filed compensation suits against the government. The government also filed several lawsuits against Cheonghaejin Marine and its owner family to redeem the expenses that it spent to respond to the sinking.

Yoo Byung-eun was a business mogul who controlled Cheonghaejin Marine; he was also a religious leader who became a fugitive shortly after the Sewol’s sinking. Amid a massive manhunt around the country, Yoo was found dead in July 2014.

Yoo Dae-kyoon is the eldest son of the late Yoo, and the government filed a lawsuit against him in 2015, demanding more than 43 billion won for the expenses the state has spent concerning the sinking.

In August 2014, Yoo was prosecuted on charges of embezzling 7.3 billion won from his father’s businesses, including Cheonghaejin Marine, from 2002 to 2013. The Supreme Court convicted him of embezzling 3.5 billion won from Cheonghaejin Marine and handed down a two year prison sentence in October 2015.

The Seoul Central District Court ruled in February this year that Yoo must pay 75 million won to the government. The court, however, dismissed most of the government’s claims saying that it must seek compensations from Cheonghaejin Marine, not Yoo.

Other civil suits were also filed by members of the public who suffered losses in the aftermath of the tragedy. Business owners of Hwarang Resort in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province, sought compensations from the province and city governments, claiming that their sales suffered due to the decision to place a joint mourning altar of the Sewol victims there.

The Seoul Central District Court ruled against them in December, saying it was not illegal for the city and province to set up the mourning altar in the resort. The case was appealed and is still pending.

While civil cases are still ongoing, criminal cases against those involved in the tragedy have almost concluded.

Captain Lee Jun-seok was convicted of deserting the Sewol as it sank.

BY KIM SEON-MI, SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]