South Korea Sewol ferry owner's son gets 3 years' jail for embezzlement

Rescue boats sail around the South Korean passenger ship Sewol which sank, during their rescue operation in the sea off Jindo, April 17, 2014. The son of the South Korean tycoon blamed for the Sewol disaster was sentenced to three years in priso
Rescue boats sail around the South Korean passenger ship Sewol which sank, during their rescue operation in the sea off Jindo, April 17, 2014. The son of the South Korean tycoon blamed for the Sewol disaster was sentenced to three years in prison Wednesday for embezzlement, the first sentencing of any member of the reclusive billionaire family on charges linked to the sinking. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (AFP) - The son of the South Korean tycoon blamed for April's ferry disaster was sentenced to three years in prison Wednesday for embezzlement, the first sentencing of any member of the reclusive billionaire family on charges linked to the sinking.

Yoo Dae Kyun, 44, was found guilty of syphoning off some US$7.2 million (S$9 million) from Chonghaejin Marine Co., the operator of the stricken ferry, and its six sister companies between 2002 and late last year.

"The accused is found guilty of embezzlement... He exploited his status as the eldest son of Yoo Byung Eun for embezzlement," the Incheon District Court in the western port city of Incheon said in a statement.

Prosecutors had sought a four-year jail sentence for Yoo.

The court also sentenced Yoo’s uncle to two years for misfeasance in office, and four family aides received jail terms of up to four years for embezzlement or misfeasance, or both.  

Eight other people, including another of Yoo’s uncles, received suspended jail sentences on similar charges. Yoo’s mother, who was arrested in July along with her son, is still awaiting sentencing. 

Yoo's sister, Yoo Sum Na, is currently fighting extradition from France on similar charges. A Paris court of appeal will rule Wednesday on her extradition.

The 48-year-old, who also runs a design company, was arrested in Paris on May 26 after an Interpol arrest warrant was filed by Seoul.

The overloading of cargo on the Sewol and an illegal redesign has been blamed for the April disaster in which the ferry sank off South Korea's southern coast, claiming more than 300 lives - most of them schoolchildren.

The badly decomposed body of Yoo's father, Yoo Byung Eun, who in addition to his substantial business interests also ran a religious group, was found in June.

Post-mortem autopsy failed to determine his cause of death. He had been the target of a massive manhunt connected to the ferry sinking.

Yoo Dae Kyun was arrested at a hideout in a commuter town just outside Seoul in July.