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Monday, February 26, 2024 | Back issues
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Alleged leader of South Korean church asks Supreme Court to block extradition

Without relief from the high court, Keith Yoo will face embezzlement charges in his home country related to family's business empire.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article linked the extradition order against Hyuk Kee Yoo to an investigation in South Korea of an April 2014 ferry disaster. These details could have been conveyed more clearly and have since been updated.

WASHINGTON (CN) — A South Korean businessman who has made his home in the tony town of Pound Ridge, New York, before his arrest in 2020 asked the Supreme Court on Wednesday to block his extradition to his home country where he claims he will face an unfair trial.

Hyuk Kee Yoo — who also goes by his English name, Keith Yoo — is wanted in South Korea on embezzlement charges related to his family’s business empire. 

As laid out in Yoo's application for emergency relief, the government's complaint accuses him of embezzling some $23 million between January 2008 and March 2014. The warrant for Yoo's arrest was signed in May 2014, as South Korean authorities tried to tie his family's business empire to the holding company behind a ferry that capsized in April, killing more than 300 people.

Lawyers for Yoo at the firm Clare Locke in Alexandria, Virginia, emphasize that South Korean authorities had been trying to frame Yoo’s father but that they never established his ownership of the marine company that controlled the ferry, "and the Korean courts made clear that neither Mr. Yoo nor his siblings had any executive or controlling roles in that company."

There is no mention of the ferry disaster in Yoo's high court application, which notes only that "Yoo faces trial in a country that has demonstrated significant animus against him, his family, and their church." At the high court, Yoo is represented by attorneys from the Madison Avenue law firm, Zuckerman Spaeder.

The Second Circuit, which affirmed denial of Yoo's habeas petition on Aug. 1, calls him the alleged leader of the Evangelical
Baptist Church of Korea. Yoo's father, Byeong-eun Yoo, was the former leader of that church and was the subject of a manhunt in South Korea after the ferry disaster. His body was found decomposing in an apricot orchard that June of that year.

“Absent a stay, Mr. Yoo could be extradited to South Korea before his final appeal is resolved to stand trial for alleged embezzlement crimes that occurred almost a decade ago — alleged crimes that could not be prosecuted under the laws of the United States due to their staleness,” the application states. “This harm would be irreversible and catastrophic; i.e., any relief granted to Mr. Yoo by the Supreme Court would be moot.” 

Between 2014 and 2018, South Korea had asked the U.S. to extradite Yoo five times to face criminal charges related to embezzlement. The State Department did not act on these requests until 2020, when the Southern District of New York prosecutors brought a sealed complaint that led to Yoo's arrest and detention without bail.

Yoo claims this time lapse allowed the five-year statute of limitations governing his alleged crimes to expire, but a federal judge ruled against Yoo, certifying the extradition request, and then denied his habeas petition. The Second Circuit affirmed and denied hearing the case en banc.

Yoo has leaned specifically on Article 6 of the United States-South Korea Extradition Treaty, which creates a mandatory bar to extradition that must be handled in the courts after the statute of limitations has run out. His high court application notes that the U.S. government conceded that the statute of limitations had run its course but that the word “may” within the statute means timeliness should be left to the discretion of the U.S. secretary of state. 

The application was submitted to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who handles applications from the Second Circuit. It is not clear when or if the court will respond. 

Follow @KelseyReichmann
Categories / Appeals, Criminal, Government, International

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