Updated May. 12, 2014 05:43
The special investigation team of the Incheon District Public Prosecutors Office, which is investigating corruptions committed by Cheonghaejin Marine, the owner of the doomed ferry Sewol, summoned and questioned on Sunday Chae Gyu-jeong, former vice governor of North Jeolla Province. Chae is the first figure to be subpoenaed among figures in the political circle who are suspected of being embroiled in the case. Chae was named CEO of Onzigoo, an affiliate of Cheonghaejin, in 2008, after serving as vice governor for administration of the North Jeolla provincial government and mayor of Iksan City from February 2001 to June 2006. He was elected Iksan mayor as a candidate by the then ruling Democratic Party in 2002, and was a member of the Uri Party after the inauguration of the Roh Moo-hyun administration.
Given that he moved to the CEO post of a Yoo Byeong-eon-affiliated firm only about a year after retiring from Iksan mayor, he is highly suspected as having colluded with Yoo since his terms in office. Onzigoo spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in the name of advanced payments from 2008 when Chae was inaugurated as CEO to last year, and made short-term loans worth over hundred thousand dollars to him. Prosecutors judge that Chae colluded with others to amass slush funds and engaged in lobbying in the political and government circles for Yoo.
The Yoo Byeong-eon family, which is suspected as being the force behind Cheonghaejins corruption scandal, established Cheonghaejin in 1999 only two years after causing massive damage worth 200 billion won (195 million U.S. dollars) to the financial community by liquidating Semo Marine in 1997. Such a company grew robustly to become the monopolistic operator of ferries linking Incheon and Jeju. Chances are high that protection by forces in the political and government circles played roles, while the owner of an unviable company, which had collapsed due to financial difficulties, openly resumed operation two years later and had its debts written off by only changing the company name.
Cheonghaejin can be easily judged to be a week marine company based on early findings alone. The company, however, was named high customer satisfaction marine company four times by the Oceans and Fisheries Ministry and the Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs Ministry, which constitutes another cause of suspicion. Last year, the company received the grand prize in logistics industry development from Incheon Metropolitan City, where the company is based. Some have raised suspicions that the Yoo Byeong-eon family paid bribes to politicians with both the ruling and opposition parties. Some have testified that there are a number of leaders in various sectors who have connection with Yoo or the so called Guwonpa (heathen Salvation sect), such as Lee Yong-wook, former head of the intelligence and investigation bureau at the Korea Coast Guard.
Prosecutors should thoroughly get to the bottom of the reality of efforts to protect Yoo made by ruling and opposition party politicians, and officials with the central and local government, who are suspected of having colluded with him. How many people among the Korean public would believe that former Vice Governor Chae was the only one among former and incumbent leaders of the political and government circles who have sought to protect Yoo?