Interview with Ko Chang-Hwan, Head of Semo Co., Right Before Being Under Arrest
The reason for this interview was that neither the Salvation Sect nor Chairman Yoo has been raising any counterargument or explanation while severe criticism has been pouring out towards them through media after the Sewol ferry incident.
• “Chairman Yoo is neither a messiah nor a cult leader. He is just an excellent Christian.”
• “If Chairman Yoo breaks the church members’ trust, the church will also be broken.”
• How things get progressed regarding the ‘Sewol ferry incident’ reminds us of the ‘Odaeyang incident’ in 1991. It makes us think of conspiracy.
• The biggest false report is saying that ‘you can sin once you are saved.’
• Lee Joon-Suk, the caption of Sewol ferry, is not a member of the Salvation Sect; neither is his wife.
• Chairman Yoo has received the consultation fee since 2 years ago.
|Mr. Ko, head of Semo, summoned to the Incheon District Prosecutors' Office. He sealed his lips while questions were being thrown at him|
On May 8th, one day before Mr. Ko Chang-Hwan (age 67), head of Semo Co., known as one of the seven aides of Mr. Yoo Byung-Eun (age 73), a former CEO of Semo Co., got arrested, we met him at a studio in Yeouido. This is the first time that one of Chairman Yoo’s closest people agreed to an official interview with a news outlet after the Sewol ferry incident. Maybe his ‘organization’ might have organized an interview. Whether Mr. Ko tells a lie or he doesn’t know the truth, we carried out the interview because we thought we needed to hear what ‘they’ have to say in order to guarantee their rights to reply.
Mr. Ko entered Semo Co. in 1986, and he was an executive director for Semo Cruise, as well as the head of emergency countermeasure committee right before Semo Co. went into court receivership. He was the managing director from 1997 when the company was under legal management, and he has been the CEO since 2008, after the termination of the legal management. In the arrest warrant requested by the public prosecutors, it is written that ‘In this case, the suspect who is one of the aides of Yoo Byung-Eun…’ They point Mr. Ko as one of the closest people to Chairman Yoo.
Mr. Ko came to the interview venue with two members of the Evangelical Baptist Church (popularly known as, and henceforth, the ‘Salvation Sect’). They were Dr. Ghu Hwoi-Dong (a medical doctor) and Mr. Lee Tae-Jong (a businessman). During the interview with Mr. Ko, the two people expressed their views on detailed doctrines of the Salvation Sect whenever supplementary explanation was needed (they emphasized that there are no so-called doctrines designated just for the Salvation Sect but only the Word of the Bible). Dr. Ghu said that he also gives sermons now and then in their church (he said that they rather use the word ‘Bible study’ or ‘lecture’ than ‘sermon’).
We spent total of around seven hours in our interview; 4 hours and 30 minutes of official interview plus about two and a half hours of interview with a meal. We had to thoroughly ask about the widely spread suspicion regarding Chairman Yoo’s participation in Semo-related business, and Mr. Ko and the two church members mostly explained and refuted.
The reason for <Monthly Chosun> to do this interview was that neither the Salvation Sect nor Chairman Yoo has been raising any counterargument or explanation while severe criticism has been pouring out towards them through media after the Sewol ferry incident. This was a chance to take a peek at the current thoughts of the church members of the Salvation Sect, of whom are assumed to be around hundred thousand. During this interview, Mr. Ko asked back “Has the news media even given us a proper chance to explain?”
The actual examination of the arrest warrant was scheduled for the 9th, the day after the interview and Mr. Ko, the president of Semo, seemed to be determined for the arresting. Mr. Ko said, “I didn’t want to come for the interview as I thought it would be awkward for someone to have an interview if that person was going to be arrested the day after.” The very first thing he said was that he wants to “beat up” Captain Lee Joon-Suk who escaped from the Sewol ferry leaving all passengers behind.
“I personally want to go find Captain Lee Joon-Suk and beat him up. I can’t humanly understand. Isn’t it right that he had to stay there until the end trying to save people?”
- Isn’t Captain Lee, Joon-Suk a member of the Salvation Sect?
“No, he is not. When it was revealed that the captain was not a member of the Salvation Sect, there was even some news saying that his wife was one. However, neither the captain nor his wife is a member of the Salvation Sect.
- Wasn’t there anyone among the Sewol ferry crew who belongs to the Salvation Sect?
“Among the ferry crew, only two people belong to the Salvation Sect, as the world calls us. One of the two passed away during the rescue and the other was found unconscious but alive after participating in the rescue. The survivors are testifying those two people’s rescue activities. The one church member who passed away was trying to rescue the passengers and in the end she could not get herself out. She was a female crew trying to save people just like Ms. Park Ji-Young, a crew member who also passed away while trying to evacuate more people.
- Why didn’t you announce that truth?
“Why? That church member gave up her noble life, but with the current criticism towards the Salvation Sect, how would she have been treated if she got known as one of us? We could not say out loud that she was a member of the Salvation Sect just in case she might not have been appointed as a martyr.”
Mr. Ko gave us the name of the female crew who passed away, but he asked us not to reveal it because he was worried that it may “do harm to the rest of her family.” It was confirmed that the female crew was on the list of fatalities.
“During the investigation in 1991, they didn’t even ask Chairman Yoo ‘if he knew about Odaeyang’”
|Members of the Salvation Sect are requesting the cessation of religious persecution in front of the Incheon District Prosecutors' Office|
- What is the relationship between the Sewol ferry and the Salvation Sect?
Mr. Lee Tae-Jong answered first to this question.
“I would also like to ask that question. I have been living as a member of the so-called Salvation Sect, I did not know about the existence of the Sewol ferry or who the captain was, until when the accident took place. I have not seen Odaeyang, and I don’t even know Park Soon-Ja of the Odaeyang incident. I just go to church and have kids, and my kids go to school, and one day I became a criminal against the whole nation. Even in my neighborhood, the Salvation Sect became something to be exterminated. I don’t know the reason why. If I learned a doctrine that taught me to kill, then I would be a criminal. In common sense, the logic that the Salvation Sect is criminal because some crew of the Sewol ferry went to the same church as mine doesn’t make sense. However, that is what the society takes in for granted. Can this kind of logic be formed naturally? I suspect that somebody must have made it on purpose.
Mr. Ko, the CEO, who was quietly listening to Mr. Lee, continued.
“It was the same in the year of 1991. As we all know the media at that time announced for more than two months as if the Salvation Sect and Chairman Yoo, Byung-Eun, the CEO at that time, were related to the Odaeyang incident. When the prosecutors were investigating, they never even asked a word to Chairman Yoo, ‘Do you know Odaeyang?’ To be more precise, it was the incident of ‘the people who turned themselves in regarding the Odaeyang mass murder-suicide.’ Among the suspicions regarding the homicide, flow of the private loan, protection from the government, turn-in background, etc., there was nothing that the prosecutors charged him against. But somehow the Salvation Sect was branded as a group of murderous people.”
The Odaeyang incident that Mr. Ko talked about is a mass suicide of Park Soon-Ja, the representative of the Odaeyang company, and 32 people of her religion group including her family and employees, and it took place on the ceiling of the cafeteria of Odaeyang Co.’s goods factory in Yongin, Gyeonggi-do on August 29th 1987. At that time the reason for the mass suicide was unknown. In July 1991, six members of the religious group of Odaeyang, including Kim Do-Hyun, turned themselves in. Some suspicions got aroused about Semo Co. as the background, the Salvation Sect as the background of the incident as well as the possibility of homicide. Mr. Ko was even considered as the one behind the people who turned themselves in. The prosecutors concluded that it was a mass suicide of Odaeyang.
- What is the actual role of Yoo Byung-Eun within the Salvation Sect?
“We think that he is one of respected Christians.”
- Was Chairman Yoo a preacher or a businessman?
“He was closer to an entrepreneur.”
- He even gave sermons on weekends. Can’t we see him as a preacher as well?
Dr. Ghu answered.
“Although I am a doctor, I sometimes come out and give a lecture. Chairman Yoo could also be a leader of the moim (They described the church as a moim).
- So Chairman Yoo gave lectures, his son also gave lectures, and Dr. Ghu here also gave lectures. Then isn’t there a pastor in the Salvation Sect?
“No, there is not. We do not have a pastor system. We did call some people pastors simply out of convenience because they used to be preachers in other churches, but they all passed away. We are all laymen. Christians in actuality but it is a gathering of laymen. Anybody who knows the Bible can take part in it.
- Then, is Chairman Yoo is an artist or a businessman now?
“He was a businessman—the CEO of Semo Co., until the company went bankrupt in 1997, but after then he was no longer a businessman.”
|At the gate of Geumsuwon, located in Bogae-myeon, Anseong, Gyeonggi-do, also known to be the residence of Chairman Yoo: Access to Geumsuwon is being restricted|
- So he is currently a layman as well as an artist.
“That’s right. Even now, he asks of which company is he a chairman.”
- Then, how you address him?
“It is convenient to keep using the title chairman, since he’s been addressed as such before.”
- Is there no official title at all?
“There is no official title. He is just called Ahae (Chairman Yoo’s pseudonym).”
- You mentioned that Chairman Yoo is a respected Christian within the Salvation Sect. Did you say he put emphasis on throwing away greed?
“No, that was emphasized by the late Pastor Kwon Shin-chan (the actual founder of the Evangelical Baptist Church and the father-in-law of Chairman Yoo).”
- It’s all right to accumulate legitimate wealth since that is a natural human instinct, whether one is a Christian or a non-Christian. But what about fulfilling one’s worldly desires by abnormal means?
“That is, of course, not right.”
- What are your thoughts then on the corporate takeover activities since 1997 and the consultancy fees Chairman Yoo has received?
“That will be clarified only if a trial is held later. What I would like to explain is that you must consider this as being that of a community. Whether the money was from secret funds or something else, what’s important is simply where the money went and for what purpose it was used. But I don’t believe that [Chairman Yoo] has used it personally. Why is that? It’s being reported by the media that we own a lot of real estates. But we have never resold any acre of land that we have purchased up to this day. That is because speculation is not the purpose here. We usually purchase remote areas. It is because we tend to choose areas that have fresh air and those that have not been polluted yet for our community. They are making it seem as if we have participated in speculation, but there is nothing listed under Chairman Yoo. There are three real estate properties under his son’s name, including a house in Daegu and one in Young-book Dong, all of which have been purchased through loans. Even the interest is being paid by his son.”
- At any rate, he does own personal real estates.
“To Chairman Yoo, nothing is his personal property—maybe not in legal terms, but in terms of spiritual sense. Chairman Yoo is a selfless person. In 1988, a single piece of napkin cost about 1 cent. When someone would try to catch a fly with a single piece of napkin, he’d ask, “Why would you spend a penny to catch a fly?” He’d use a napkin and then save it inside his pocket, and reuse it after it dries. In terms of his honest and modest lifestyle, what has become generally known to the world is far from the truth.”
Dr. Ghu came to support him in this.
“I know that Chairman Yoo has always lived in one part of a large warehouse called Geumsuwon, has always eaten everyday food in moderation, and has never participated in speculative investment for himself or his immediate family. It seems that to Chairman Yoo, born-again Christians are his family. As an example, there was a land in his children’s name. A piece of advice he gave as a parent at his second son’s wedding was, ‘even if you fall on hard times, you must never sell our property carelessly just because it’s under your name.’ He was always thorough in all matters regarding his children, such as keeping a strict watch on his children’s use of ownership.”
|A large warehouse building in Geumsuwon: Aides of Chairman Yoo stated that Chairman Yoo has worked on his photograph project in a small room of the warehouse|
- At the beginning of the Sewol ferry incident, Chairman Yoo said he would give out his private funds. Was it really up to 10 billion won (approximately 10 million dollars)?
“I don’t know about that in much detail, but I understand that he meant to give out all of his property that was under his name. It seems that since he is a photographer who owns copyrights, he thought to do that out of a moral point of view. There was some confusion because it was being announced through a lawyer, but he probably had no intention whatsoever to cover up the incident.”
- Have you heard of Chairman Yoo’s thoughts recently?
“I haven’t heard from him directly, but it seemed that he feels very frustrated. First, you need to be aware of how people of the Evangelical Baptist Church live. As of now, the society views it as ownership relations, but that’s not all there is to how people live. My apartment is under my name, for instance, but my wife calls it her house and my children call it their house. Just as there is no need for further proof to call it as ours even when it is under one’s name, it is so with the property of the Evangelical Baptist Church. I don’t know how much it will be if we ever sell Geumsuwon, but if it were a personal property of Chairman Yoo, he would be a rich man. I go to Geumsuwon very often. If you look at it in terms of who uses the place more often, it’d be me. But Chairman Yoo doesn’t even come out of the room where he takes photographs. It’s said that during the past four years, he’s taken three million photos. In order to do that, they say you have to take once every 30 seconds.”
- Does Chairman Yoo take pictures without sleeping?
“What I’ve said earlier was calculated after taking out the time for sleep. And this is not even done in continuous shooting mode. If he wants to take a picture of a water deer, he waits until a water deer comes out to take its picture. This way, the times when the pictures were taken are all recorded.”
- At any rate, Chairman Yoo’s photographs have been sold at a high price that is far beyond the comprehension of ordinary people. Is his level that high?
The following is response from Mr. Lee Tae-jong.
“Honestly, I bought a calendar for 160,000 won (approximately 160 dollars) out of courtesy, but I’m a layman when it comes to photographs. I thought they were similar to other general photographs, and they just look ordinary to my eyes. But I wondered why his work became so renowned that people came to interview him from the Czech National Gallery. From what I hear, for Milan Knizak, the former general director of the Czech National Gallery, the impact of seeing these photographs was so strong that it changed his sense of direction in art. Personally, I don’t understand even the artworks of Picasso, but I imagine it is so if the art critics acknowledge the value his work. Who would say anything against Ahae, if he sold his photographs after raising their values just like Picasso did? I also think that holding a private exhibition at the Palace of Versailles or the Louvre is an unprecedented event in history.”
- Wasn’t that done through lobbying?
“Can everything be done just through lobbying? Could someone exhibit his artworks if he gives them 1.6 billion won (approximately 1.6 million dollars)? There is a panel of judges over there as well. Receiving donations is a sort of custom. Would they do everything for you just because you give them money? That makes no sense at all. This happened only because the quality of work was acknowledged as such. If you say the Louvre let someone pay money to hold an exhibition, it would be an insult to the Louvre. I don’t think that is the case at all. I’m aware that correspondents from each media press have been sent out there. It’d be very simple for them to meet the exhibition staff of the Louvre or the Palace of Versailles and confirm this. Would the Louvre have sullied its own reputation just to get 1.6 billion won (1.6 million dollars)?”
“If Yoo Byung-Eun were a messiah, all the members of his church would go to hell.”
The AHAE exhibition was held at the Palace of Versailles, France, from June to September 2013
- Let’s leave the photographs at that. The reason the Salvation Sect has become a target of criticisms is because of the perspective that it caused insolvency within the enterprise by affecting its activities. Even in the case of Chonghaejin Marine, many are pointing out that because of the ineffective management of the enterprise, the ship was weakened and the crew was insufficiently educated, which along with other causes led to an incident such as the sinking of the Sewol in which many students died tragically. And Chairman Yoo is known to be at the peak of all these. Don’t you think that Chairman Yoo, by taking advantage of the legal management and controlling the enterprise behind the scenes for private interests, led the enterprise to forsake its duties?
“All responsibilities of Chonghaejin Marine reside with the corporation representative director. It’s not an area in which anyone can get involved. It gets planted in people’s minds like that because things are being driven (as if Chairman Yoo interfered with the corporate management). My whole world seems to be collapsing every time I think of the Sewol ferry incident. My heart aches. But my whole world also collapses at reports that say things such as how the captain did what he did without feeling any sense of guilt because he is of the Salvation Sect, which is assumed to teach that once you receive salvation, you are saved even if you commit sins. I hope that you will understand such false reports about the beliefs of the Evangelical Baptist Church are really hurting our innocent church members who are earnestly leading their lives of faith."
Mr. Lee gave an additional explanation on the theory of salvation of the Salvation Sect.
“The concept of salvation that we talk of is that you receive salvation if you repent after having committed sin. It says in the Bible that you must be born again to become the child of God. Once a child is born, the relationship is maintained forever. But a relationship between a parent and a child is such that the parent must guide the child to the right path if he/she does something wrong—even if it means you have to punish the child. Receiving salvation means that when you establish a father-son relationship with God, this relationship will never change. If a child does something wrong, God will punish him until he is put back on the right path, but that doesn’t mean God will forsake him forever.”
- Maintaining the father-son relationship means that you would never go to hell once you receive salvation?
“Of course. What’s important is that a person has been changed into someone who is no longer willing to commit sins, and if he does sin, he will still be punished for that sin. God has created men and is saving people who commit sin because He means to make them into good men, who are no longer willing to commit sin. So after getting saved, you are punished even more severely every time you sin. This shows that He means to get rid of the part of your heart that wants to sin. If you can’t understand this, you may think, ‘that person is saying you can go to heaven even if you commit sin.’ That is a totally opposite direction of thinking.”
- Who is the one that gives salvation?
- So the current Korean Christian organization is naming you a cult just because of such differences in the interpretation of doctrines or formalities?
- Within the Salvation Sect, is Chairman Yoo a messiah?
“That kind of statement is like laying a curse on us. If Yoo Byung-eun were a messiah, all the members of his church would go to hell. You don’t have to attend our church to receive salvation. Salvation exists in other churches. We always say this.”
- Then is Chairman Yoo the leader of the Salvation Sect?
- Then who is the person that is actually leading the Salvation Sect?
“There should not be such a person.”
- So it is a gathering of ordinary believers?
“That is why we started with the name, the Korean Laymen’s Evangelical Fellowship from the very beginning.”
Who does Semo Co. belong to?
|Pier of Semo's Han River Cruise ships, located in Yeouido, back in 1991|
- How do the number of church members compare between now and the 1980s?
“In the 1980s, the number of church members was a lot higher.”
- What is the approximate scale now?
“Currently we don’t have a roster, but church members meet once a year at Anseong and about 8,000 to 10,000 people attend. There are most likely people who can’t come due to vacation, etc., so the actual size would be larger than that. Though some people say that the number is 100,000, I don’t think that is so.”
- If Chairman Yoo is not a religious leader, then did Chairman Yoo use his own personal funds when Semo first started?
“No. It was not only Chairman Yoo’s funds, but there were also shareholders. I am aware that Chairman Yoo used his own house as mortgage for funding in the beginning.”
- The Salvation Sect also pays donations, right?
“Donations are paid to the church.”
- Then is money paid separately to Semo?
“That is not the case. There are people who want to work where other brothers and sisters work. They work there because they like working with brothers and sisters, so even if the wage is low they are not discontent. But for those of us who have other jobs, if we heard that “Semo is trying to do so-and-so but they are lacking funds,” then during Saturday and Sunday services, a group of people would come together with the heart of: “There are brothers and sisters that come in and work, but don’t we who work outside live a bit more comfortably? Let’s come together and finance some of the business costs.” I am aware that there was this kind of voluntary group.
- When Chairman Yoo gave sermons, apparently he gave a sermon along the lines of, “You must give money to save the company in order to go to heaven.”
“That is not true.”
- Then who does the Semo Co. belong to? Is it Chairman Yoo’s company? Or is it the company of the Salvation Sect?
“I, too, was not present at its initial stage, but most of the shareholders are church members. The major shareholder is Dr. Byun Woo-Seop, who is a surgeon and also a member of the Evangelical Baptist Church. He has more shares than Chairman Yoo. There are shareholders among the church members, but the company was not founded by the church.”
- So do you mean that although most of the shareholders are part of the Salvation Sect, it is still a private corporation?
“Yes, that is right. Because the shareholders and the employees were made up like this, Mr. Tak Myung-Hwan called it a church company. But that is not the case at all. This is because the people are intertwined. For ten years since 1997, it was under court receivership. Then who does the company belong to? It belongs to the Incheon District Court. Nevertheless, because there were a lot of church members among the employees, the church members expressed the company as “our company.” I do not know where the ownership lies from a layman’s perspective, but because it is a place where brothers and sisters work together, there is a sense of public ownership. But legally that is not the case.”
- If it is a company with a sense of public ownership, then can such a large amount of funds be handed to this particular person, Chairman Yoo Byung-Eun?
“The results of the investigation will come out later, but the role of Chairman Yoo is big. Even after the bankruptcy, if it weren’t for him, then the company would have ceased to exist. If it weren’t for his strong leadership as a mentor, could the company have existed? Even though it wasn’t his actual role, that man gave an enormous amount of information. He gives information that the normal public doesn’t know. He has a lot of influence. Even after founding the Semo Company, Chairman Yoo didn’t come out to work, but he had let his people make business decisions until 1997 when the company went into legal management—that was, for almost 30 years. There are parts that are hard to understand on a general level, but to put it in one way—you can say that a significant portion all belongs to the church.”
- The money that leaked to Chairman Yoo?
“No. I also heard about the advisory fee for the first time, but even if it is true, compared to the work that he has done, it is not a large sum of money.”
Does he receive advisory fees for serving as a mentor?
|Chairman Yoo working as a photographer under the name of "AHAE"|
- You mentioned earlier that Chairman Yoo showed strong leadership as a mentor. Within the church, he is only a layman and after the company went bankrupt, he had no connection with it, but we want to ask how he could serve as a mentor. Aren’t you saying that although he didn’t have a title he essentially directed from behind?
“I want to make one thing clear. A church leader and a director are completely differentiated.”
- Just before, after asking about the church leader, we asked who the actual leader was.
“I think it would be correct to say that he would assume the role of a pastor in a common church. When Chairman Yoo speaks, we church members do not take that lightly and we think it over again. If Chairman Yoo says, “These are my thoughts,” then it has the strength to pull about 80% of the people in the direction that he speaks about. That kind of role is different from the role of a company president who sanctions and makes decisions.”
- So even if he advises, an advisory fee is paid on a case-by-case basis. But he should not be paid just because he served as a mentor in the past.
“The advisor position began two years ago. Before, it didn’t exist. The representative who was in charge of I-One-I Holdings brought up that Chairman Yoo also faces the problem of making a living. So it was proposed that an advisory fee be given so that he can perform normal economic activities.”
- Then with what money did Chairman Yoo’s first and second sons purchase company stocks?
“I understand that they took out loans from their real estate.”
- Isn’t that real estate public property of the church?
“There are public properties and also private ones. The first son is a sculptor. I am aware that some of his works went for 900 million won (approximately 900 thousand dollars). The person who requested that work had nothing to do with the Salvation Sect. It is possible to earn a lot of money from the arts, isn’t it? I once heard him say privately that he didn’t charge a lot for the work and just received 50 million won (50 thousand dollars). I was surprised, because 50 million won was the reduced cost.”
- If he earns that much, then did Semo need to take care of Chairman Yoo? Isn’t that a breach of trust?
“Isn’t it an advisory fee? If you put it that way, then other companies are all in breach of trust.”
- Advisors of other companies give significant contributions to the company and for a fixed period they receive honorable treatment. In the case of Semo, it went bankrupt. Then doesn’t Chairman Yoo have to claim responsibility for such management? There is no sense of duty. At the present, there are no contributions that he made to the growth of Semo or any associated companies.
“In my view, there is.”
- Are you saying that Chairman Yoo’s advice helped the company’s growth?
“I do not know much related to Chonghaejin Marine, so I am also curious. But if you look at a different case: there was a paint factory that made pearl pigments. When it was liquidated, they were going to conclude the deal at a certain typical amount. But Chairman Yoo said, ‘It seems like it is being sold too cheaply for its worth. It would be better to name a higher price.’ So the deal was made at two times the price. Billions of won were going back and forth, and with just such one word, they had earned 5 billion won more…”
- Then with what capacity did Chairman Yoo give such advice? Did the company request it?
“It is difficult to draw the line and speak about it…”
- Isn’t it difficult to draw the line because it is not a normal contractual relationship?
“That is not the case. He signed a contract as an advisor.”
- The money went out like that in name only, but wasn’t it not an advisory duty?
“Because it has no relationship with us, I am not exactly sure. But it was either a consultant fee or advisory fee.”
- If he had no official duty as an advisor, then the advisory and consulting contract needs to be concluded. Has it been concluded?
“Of course. The money cannot leave without a contract. How at all? This is the way I know it. And as for the issue of role—for example, it is like that Chairman Lee Gun-hee proposed an idea for Samsung’s semiconductors even though he is not an expert. For us likewise, whether that person is a church member or not, he was someone with a special idea. Then wouldn’t we want to ask him? We would. And we never did that using money. It was merely that in the last two years, the company decided that it should then at least give advisory fees. That is what I know happened, and I hope that they also investigate how the advisory fee was used. Then it will be revealed. If we know how it was used, then I think we would also know what Chairman Yoo was planning on doing with that money.”
- You’ve talked about his frugality and integrity; for example, he is frugal with even a piece of napkin that is worth of only a penny. But objectively speaking, isn’t it excessive that he received more than ten million won (approximately ten thousand dollars) monthly as advice compensation?
“I can definitely answer that: even if he comes back from the dead, that man would not ask for a certain sum of money.”
- Even if he hadn’t asked for it, isn’t it true that he received the money as advisory compensation? Can’t it be seen that because this person who spoke so much of frugality and integrity received the money, he says one thing and does another? Wouldn’t it be disappointing if he had used that money personally?
“What I can confidently say is that Chairman Yoo would never have used the money that was deposited into his account for personal means.”
Mr. Lee Tae-Jong added onto Mr. Ko’s words.
“I believe that that kind of question is a common sentiment. If that is true, then I would also be bewildered. I wonder of the consequences of thinking, “The person I respected received that much money?” At the same time, I am still curious about the consequence. There are also many church members who ask, “There was this kind of company, too?” But on one hand, I have certain expectations. Those who have known Chairman Yoo until now would have the belief that he has used the money for public means; I do now know if that is illegal or not, but there is a trust in the intent and goal.”
“A lot of misleading media related to the Sewol”
- What kind of person is Chairman Yoo Byung-Eun?
“He is the founder, and although he is not the developer, he is someone who gave a tremendous amount of help to the company. Once squalene came out at Semo, the company grew tremendously.”
- What about his character?
“He has a lot of pride. He truly does not compromise on unrighteousness. Right now, they are saying things such that Chairman Yoo is a heinous criminal and a moral hazard, but that is not true.”
- Where is Chairman Yoo right now?
“He is not in contact with us, nor is he trying to meet with us. What can we talk about if we do meet in this situation?”
- We hear that there is a lot of misleading media on the Salvation Sect and Chairman Yoo. Are you gathering evidence?
“We are currently doing everything. I know that we are seeking a variety of measures to take action against misleading news.”
- Are you speaking of legal actions?
- What are some representative actions?
“I mentioned this before but saying that we claim that if you are saved you can do whatever you want is the greatest insult. I don’t think that there is another group that tries to live as righteously as we do. So within Christianity, that is the biggest insult. Also, even though “Ahae” means a child, they say that it is modified from “Yahweh.” And the name of Sewol Ferry is the same “sewol” that we ordinarily use (Meaning ‘times’), but they say that it is the sewol that means ‘transcending the world.’ And even though Semo simply refers to the shape of a triangle, they say that it is “Moses” written backwards. There are a lot of these. I guess they think that because the Salvation Sect is a murderous cult, it’s okay for them to pummel us by recklessly writing whatever they want.”
- I don’t think that’s the case. After the Sewol ferry sinking incident the people that used to be part of the Salvation Sect are continuously exposing the relationship between the Salvation Sect and Chairman Yoo.
“Mr. A and Mr. B are the representative people. But from what I know, because of his writings, Mr. A has been labeled as a heretic by the conservative organization Christian Council of Korea, which is representative of the Christian society in Korea. As for Mr. B, he was trying to make into his own personal possession a property of the Evangelical Christian Church that was under his wife’s name. So I am aware that a lawsuit is in process.”
It has been confirmed that Mr. A had written a recommendation for a book on Christianity and the Heresy Countermeasure Committee of the Christian Council of Korea labeled this book as an antichristian obscene book. The author and recommender of the book have been labeled as heretics.
Chairman Yoo unfavored by Madame Ok-Suk Kim.
Chairman Yoo, convicted of habitual fraud in 1991
- Aftermath of the Sewol ferry incidence, many reports were given on Chairman Yoo having close relationships with the fifth regime (the Fifth Republic of Korea).
“You know very well that that is not true. In 1992, Chosun Ilbo reported under the title <Jeon Du-Hwan’s voice testimony>. The article contained a report about the former President Jeon’s commanding his people to eliminate Yoo Byung-Eun. It’s outrageous that the media is still broadcasting about this false allegation about the protection of the fifth regime.”
- Is it true that he had a close relationship with the former President Jeon’s younger brother Jeon Gyung-Hwan?
“That’s absolutely not true. I heard this myself. At the time when Chairman Yoo was a board member of the Invention Patent Association, the board director in honor at that time was Mr. Jeon Gyeong-Hwan. They had met only once or twice. Instead, we suffered oppression. In August, 1986, the National Tax Administration enforced tax audit and charged us additional amount of 3.2 billion won ($3.2 million). The company that underwent tax audit was the one the former President Jeon Du-Hwan had visited, Samwoo Trading. This company at the time had sales of 18 billion wons ($18 million). Almost 20% of the total sales were charged for additional tax. Without the protection of the government, could this have occurred?”
- During the regime of Noh Tae-Woo, the Salvation Sect received a severe blow as the ‘Odeyang incident’ became widely known. The Salvation Sect must not have been in good terms with the former President Noh’s administration either.
“Among church members, there are people who think that the Noh administration exposed the Odaeyang scandal in order to cover up the Suseo corruption incident. That’s how bad of a term we were with the government.”
- Any particular reason as to having a bad relationship?
“When Noh Tae-Woo was the Minister of Interior Affairs, his wife, Madame Kim Ok-Suk, attended the ‘Fund for Nature’ bazaar held at Lotte Hotel. Chairman Yoo did not cut the tape, saying, ‘She is the minister of interior affairs at her own home, but is she also outside?’ The directors of the Ministry of Interior Affairs were bewildered.”
- He made Madame Kim angry.
“We think that that might have been the cause.”
- But why did he join the Laurel Association led by Park Chul-Un, Madame Kim’s first-cousin?
“Chariman Yoo has never joined the Laurel Association. That is a lie created by the press.”
What kind of people are Yang-Ja Jeon and Hye-Gyung Kim, who are considered to be the key people?
|Actress Jeon Yang-Ja appeared for questioning at the Incheon District Prosecutors' Office. She said, “I have no link to the corruption allegation regarding Chairman Yoo. I will reveal everything to the prosecution.”|
-Would Chairman Yoo be able to evade the legal proceedings this time?
“That is not for us to decide.”
- Between you (Mr. Ko) and actress Jeon Yang-Ja, who is closer with Chairman Yoo?
“You may be trying to make me perplexed, but how am I the key person? For Chairman Yoo, there is no key person. We have only talked on needed basis.”
- Then is Jeon Yang-Ja the key person?
“I know it to be not true. She is a celebrity. She even suffered a bitter experience during the Odaeyang incident in 1991. I think she is someone to look up to. I don’t have any personal acquaintance with her. But even though she went through all that trouble during the Odaeyang incident even as a celebrity, she still did not leave the church. I think her faith is astonishing.
- Does Jeon Yang-Ja personally manage the media company, Gookje Yeongsang?
“No. Since she is an actress, she volunteered to run the media business. She knows a lot of program directors (PDs), so I think that’s why she wanted to work in that area.
- There is a rumor and report that there is a child between Chairman Yoo and his secretary Kim Hye-Kyung.
“That’s just unimaginable. Miss Kim Hye-Kyung is still unmarried.
- What kind of a person is Miss Kim Hye-Kyung?
“She is a pharmacist. She even has an international pharmacist license. She had also worked at cruise ship. At the time, when Chairman Yoo came out, I heard she served him some tea. When Hankook Pharma was founded, she became the representative director. They are saying that she is the key person who had an affair with him, but I just can’t understand why they are doing that.
- While some people may have gained profit from the Salvation Sect owning businesses, aren’t the employees receiving way too low of a wage?
Mr. Lee Tae-Jong answered.
“That is not true. For example, my wife and I received benefits ourselves. My second child was diagnosed with Down syndrome when he was born and suffered from leukemia, but he was announced as being completely cured. He was diagnosed with a disorder while still in the womb. I couldn’t abort the baby as a Christian, but a lot of money was spent to cure him. We believe that there is one ‘Church’ in the whole world, so we express our church as a ‘moim (gathering).’ There is a message from our moim. In regards to health, instead of using medicine, it is very important to have our body fight the disease on its own. Then, it is good to recover health through exercises and diet. With this concept came Alkoxy. The hospital had actually given up on chemotherapy, so instead, we gave our son Squalene and Alkoxy, and that’s how he came to completely heal. No matter what people say, my son was healed, and my family is living a harmonious life. These products are very expensive, but regardless, the salespeople are also living comfortable lives selling them. Compared to some areas, there are other places that receive more. When the business is good, of course they receive more money. The areas with deficit, they receive less. Even general public is also divided between areas that receive more money and those that receive less money. If the happiness is determined by how much money you receive…”
- The consumers receive benefits from the efficacy of the health supplements, but with the church running its business, I’m asking who ultimately takes the final profits.
“The workers. That’s how they live and survive.”
Aren’t the church members exploited?
- But if you take a look at the hierarchical system of the company that has been revealed, it still seems that the Yoo family takes the final profits. They are shareholders of the owner company, they receive profit sharing, and they also receive consultant fees. It may look that the entire company exists just for the sake of the Yoo family. Don’t you think so?
“Do you want to talk about exploitation?”
- Yes. It is not the kind of a stable company people generally think of. The church members voluntarily participated in the businesses, and I wonder if the family of the leader is taking all the profits from the businesses.
“It may seem so, but it is not true. The workers of the companies and the church take all the profits. I think the low wages are an issue now because of the report that said Captain Lee has been paid only 2.7 million won ($2,700) per month. But it was not 2.7 million. It was over 4 million ($4,000).”
- How much the captain has made per month is not important here. You just said the businesses are run to support the entire church. If the flow of money is manifest in the church bankbook or bank account, then there is no problem. But the money flows are shown in the accounts of Chairman Yoo’s sons. Then, the money was not used for the church, was it?
“It is hard to understand the entire thing unless you have an understanding of the concept of community. The church members, including me, have this belief that we are together—that we work together. From our standpoint, business is not simply a job for us, but it is a task that all of us—as one community—have to achieve. But there are shareholders and bills. So there can be chances of misunderstandings between people that are helping the businesses. Whether it is a consultant fee or whatever, money will have to be spent somewhere. You just need to focus on that. You may, however, be disappointed when you discover where the money was spent.”
- So it is all based on the religious faith and trust, and it is not for the purpose of earning profits. And the outcomes will be seen later?
“We’re saying because you want a conclusion. We are a company that runs businesses. The company asks for consultations only when it needs help.”
- You are emphasizing the concept of community. Then, can we regard real estates that are under individuals’ names as the properties of the entire Salvation Sect?
“For example, the house in Yeomgok-dong may look like a luxurious mansion, but it is more or less like a guest house. People stay there together and have meals together. Although the house is under the name of an individual person, it is used as a guest house.
- Then, why didn’t you put it under the name of the community from the beginning?
“Lately, we are using the names of associations and unions. When we didn’t have much knowledge, we simply used individuals’ names, but there were some side effects. Some people started to argue that a certain property belongs to him/her because it was under his/her name. Some of these people are now on TV and attacking us. Those who save things personally and break trust cannot belong to our community.”
- What if Chairman Yoo broke your trust?
“The entire church would break down.”
Why is Chairman Yoo Secluded?
- Why does Chairman Yoo live a secluded life?
“He had been publicly ostracized. I think it has also affected his works on photography. I heard that Chairman Yoo took photos for almost 20 hours a day and his feet got swollen. He is over 70, and such an effort is not easy to make. Capturing changes of seasons and temperature in one spot cannot be achieved if you do not have passion.”
- If there were an accident in Semo, like the one that happened to the Sewol ferry, then Mr. Ko would be responsible for it. Do you mean that president Kim Han-Shik is responsible for Chonghaejin Marine?
“Yes. The chief executive officer has indefinite responsibility as well as power. Whether I was ordered by someone or not, it is entirely my responsibility. I really don’t understand why the crew members escaped the ferry first when the accident took place. I also heard that the president fell on his way to Mokpo; I don’t understand that either. Since the president fell down, anarchy ruled the company. I do not own any stocks of my company, but I manage the company as if I owned it.
- They say that Lee Yong-Wook, former head of the intelligence and investigation bureau at the Korea Coast Guard, who was fired because he belongs to the Salvation Sect, is one of the “Kids of Yoo Byung-Eun.” Is that correct?
“I never knew that he was a member of the Salvation Sect or that he was a Coast Guard. People say I am one of the aides, but there is a lot of new information that I gain from the news.”
Dr. Ghu added:
“He wrote a note of acknowledgement to the board of Semo in his thesis. So I understand that the media may view him in that way. But even such a person can leave the Salvation Sect if he finds something unfit for his eyes. The Salvation Sect is such a free group. It may happen to me as well: I may also turn away from the church at a certain moment. He was simply one of such people.”
Mr. Ko added more:
“I will be taken into custody tomorrow, and honestly, I don’t want to go to prison for someone else. We are not gangs, and do you think there will be anyone that will take the responsibility when I go to prison? It is very different from what people in general normally think. If Chairman Yoo were the leader of the church, all of us should have stepped forward and protected him. But in 1991, everyone stepped away, and he was the only one that went to prison.”
- You seem to be prepared for it, but it is very likely that you will be sent to prison tomorrow. How did you feel while watching the Sewol ferry incident?
“It was very tragic, but I wish it becomes a noble sacrifice that can prevent even greater and more tragic disasters in this country. Nobody knows what kind of disasters would happen in Korea. Who knows? Korea is not a safe country. If it becomes the foundation in building the country in which all its people can live safely, I believe it will soothe the hearts of the families of the victims. This is not the kind of thing that can be resolved by punishing Chairman Yoo only. How is the Sewol ferry related to the investigation of the corruption of the Yoo family now? I personally think there is a sort of conspiracy, just like what happened back in 1991—the Odaeyang incident was used to cover up the Suseo corruption scandal.”
It was reported on the newspaper on the following day that Chairman Yoo had been listed as a number one worker of Chonghaejin Marine and that an emergency contact list was found that includes Yoo labeled as the Chairman of the company. It was the evidence that Chairman Yoo was involved in the management of Chonghaejin Marine.
I called Mr. Ko, who was on his way to Incheon District Court for the examination of his arrest warrant, to ask if the report was true.
“I don’t know anything. However, I heard the emergency contact list had been created on April 15th, which is just a day before the capsize of the Sewol. What do you think that means?”
Mr. Ko seems to believe that someone was intentionally using the case of the Sewol to a certain direction. Or, he may not know much about the Yoo family indeed.
Source: Monthly Chosun (www.monthly.chosun.com)