France frees daughter of South Korean magnate blamed for ferry disaster

PARIS (AFP) - A French court on Tuesday freed Ms Yoo Som Na, daughter of a South Korean tycoon blamed for a ferry disaster that killed more than 300 people, her laywers told AFP, after Seoul had requested her extradition.

"Taking into account the political context, the threats to the presumption of innocence... (the court) decided to release" Ms Yoo while waiting for further information, said her lawyers in a joint statement. “It’s a relief after 13 months of unjustified detention,” said the statement from lawyers Olinka Malaterre, Herve Temime and Rachel Lindon.

A court in Paris in January authorised her extradition, but the appeals court overturned the decision in April, meaning that her case would have to be reconsidered by a lower court.

Ms Yoo, 48, is wanted in South Korea on suspicion that she embezzled millions of dollars from subsidiaries of her family’s company, Chonghaejin Marine Co. The authorities there believe the alleged embezzlement contributed to safety defects that led to the April 2014 Sewol ferry disaster that claimed more than 300 lives, most of them schoolchildren.

Ms Yoo’s father Yoo Byung Eun had been the target of a nationwide manhunt after he refused to respond to an official summons following the ferry disaster.

The tycoon, who in addition to his substantial business interests also ran a religious group, was found dead in a plum orchard last June.

A post-mortem failed to determine the cause of death.

Ms Yoo’s brother Yoo Dae Kyun was found guilty in November in South Korea of siphoning off some US$7.2 million from the company and sentenced to three years in prison.

That same month, the Sewol’s captain was jailed for 36 years for gross negligence and dereliction of duty, while three other senior crew members were sentenced to jail terms of between 15 and 30 years.