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South Korea’s most-wanted man asks Supreme Court to block extradition

Without relief from the high court, Keith Yoo will face charges in his home country related to a ferry crash that killed hundreds.

WASHINGTON (CN) — A South Korean businessman asked the Supreme Court on Wednesday to prevent the U.S. from sending him back to his home country to face charges related to a 2014 ferry disaster that killed more than 300 people. 

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 businesses. Yoo’s father — Yoo Byung-eun — controlled the Chonghaejin Marine Company, which operated a ferry that capsized off the southwestern tip of South Korea in April 2014. The South Korean government alleges the family used a church they ran to embezzle approximately $23 million. 

Living in the U.S. for over three decades, Yoo is asking the court to block his extradition while he files a petition before the justices. Yoo claims as a U.S. resident, he should have the same opportunities to appeal his case through the country’s judicial system. He also says that his alleged crimes could not be prosecuted in the U.S. 

“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,” Shawn Naunton, an attorney with Zuckerman Spaeder representing Yoo, wrote in his application. “This harm would be irreversible and catastrophic; i.e., any relief granted to Mr. Yoo by the Supreme Court would be moot.” 

Yoo also told the court that he wouldn’t receive a fair trial in South Korea because of bias against his family. 

“The demonstrated animus in South Korea against the Yoo family and the church to which they belong is significant, making it likely that Mr. Yoo will not receive a fair trial there for the alleged embezzlement crimes related to his work,” Naunton wrote. “In balancing the equities, Mr. Yoo should be granted a stay for the few months it will take for the Supreme Court to rule on his forthcoming petition.” 

South Korea has asked the U.S. to extradite Yoo five times to face criminal charges related to embezzlement. While all these requests were submitted between 2014 and 2018, the State Department did not act on them until 2020. Yoo claims this time lapse allowed the five-year statute of limitations governing his alleged crimes to expire. 

The government arrested Yoo in New York in 2020. He fought the complaint against him, claiming that a section of the United States-South Korea Extradition Treaty creates a mandatory bar to extradition that must be handled in the courts after the statute of limitations has run out. 

While conceding that the statute of limitations had run its course, the government claims the word “may” within the statute means timeliness should be left to the discretion of the secretary. 

A district court 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 now turned to the Supreme Court in a last-ditch attempt to avoid returning to South Korea. 

His stay 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. 

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