Artist linked to Korean ferry disaster
Businessman turned photographer denies any stake in the operator of the Sewol vessel
By Gareth Harris. Web only
Published online: 22 May 2014
A controversial Korean businessman turned artist has become embroiled in April’s Sewol ferry disaster that claimed the lives of at least 288 people. The ferry sank off the coast of South Korea en route to Jeju Island; most of the passengers were students on a school field trip.
A photographer, who works under the pseudonym Ahae, issued a statement last month criticising Korean press reports that link him to the ferry tragedy. Ahae's real name is Byung Eun Yoo; he is a businessman who once ran a now-defunct ferry company that operated on the Han River in South Korea.
Some Korean press reports have stated that Yoo is a shareholder in Chonghaejin Marine Co, the operator of the Sewol ferry. But according to Reuters, financial filings show that Yoo has no stake in the operator, which took over the ferry assets of Yoo's business when he went bankrupt in 1997. His two sons own a minority stake (19.44% each) in the holding company that holds a 7.06% stake in the ferry company, says a spokesman for Ahae.
Michael Ham, the managing director of Yoo's company Ahae Press, says that Yoo “has been spending every single day of the past four to five years focusing on his photography work”. Accusations have also been made in the Korean media regarding exhibitions of Yoo's photography held at the Louvre in Paris in 2012 under the Ahae guise, and at the National Gallery in Prague in 2011.
Mike von Joel, the editor-in-chief of the UK-based photography journal State Magazine, said in a statement: “It has apparently been claimed that these were somehow ‘bogus’ exhibitions and the result of Ahae’s associates buying favours with these organisations.” He defends Ahae, saying that these claims are “completely fabricated and without foundation”.
When asked why he felt compelled to take this stance, Von Joel says: “I thought this character assassination needed addressing.” He adds that he knows “absolutely nothing about Ahae [Yoo] or his family's business history”.
A Louvre spokeswoman confirms that the exhibition of Ahae's work was an official presentation of his photographs in the Tuileries. “The Louvre deals with events organised in the garden,” she adds.
UPDATE (23 May): The Korea Times reported 22 May that the Incheon District Court has issued an arrest warrant for Byung Eun Yoo who faces charges of embezzlement, breach of trust and tax evasion. A spokesman for Yoo confirmed that a warrant has been issued but claimed that the businessman is the subject of a smear campaign.
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