Fishing company faked documents

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 11:18 17/01/2013

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A top official of Korea's largest fishing company has escaped prosecution despite a report that he admitted ordering the forging of currency receipts to trick Immigration New Zealand over payment to low-wage crews.

Nine men either working for Sajo Oyang Corporation in Korea, or on their vessel Oyang 75 in New Zealand, will not be prosecuted by Korean authorities for a variety of offences, including allegations of forgery and assault.

In June 2011, Oyang's 32 Indonesian crew walked off while docked in Lyttelton, claiming they had been abused and underpaid. 

The ship had been brought in to replace Oyang 70, which sank in August 2010 with the loss of six lives. Oyang Corporation produced foreign currency receipts to prove the crew had been paid, but when the then-Department of Labour investigated the payments, the crew denied receiving anything. 

PricewaterHouseCoopers was commissioned to investigate, but their audit was unable to verify whether wages had been paid. 

Busan Regional Public Prosecutor Yoo Kyungpil said in his report that one of the accused, unnamed but described as the CEO of Sajo Industry (now part of Oyang), had admitted to his "suspected crimes".

He said it was the first time he had been accused of criminal activity, and would not be prosecuted for alleged abetting and fraudulent use of documents.

Sajo Oyang's website lists three different CEOs.

The company has not yet responded to a request for comment on the decisions.

The prosecutor said in a section labelled "facts of the crime" that the crew claimed they were owed US$1 million ($1.2 million), but Oyang claimed there was only US$260,000 unpaid. 

But it said Sajo Industry "was not in a situation" where it could pay that immediately.

"The accused held an emergency meeting on the morning of the 27th of November 2011 at the Sajo Industries CEO office and was decided that in order to be able to negotiate with the New Zealand Immigration Office they needed to forge foreign currency transfer receipts of each of the 32 crewmembers ... in the exact same format as their usual bank ... issues to make it look like they had paid the $260,000."

The report also said that another official at Sajo Oyang erased the transfer date, number and amount on a previous receipt and printed it to make it a blank form.

The second accused was said to have then made 32 more copies. The report continues that the company also discovered they did not have employment contracts in Korea for the men, so another accused forged a document and then faked the signatures.

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On the allegations of physical and sexual abuse of the crew by the Korean officers, the Public Prosecutor ruled that he had "no right of prosecution" in any of the cases.

The alleged abuse is detailed in the facts in the document, including one officer kicking a crewman because he had not organised his tools, another hitting a crewman in the head and kneeing another in the stomach. There were also allegations of sexual assault on the crew by the Koreans.

Last September four Oyang 75 officers were fined $420,000 for fish dumping and filing false catch returns. Oyang was also ordered to forfeit the 68 metre trawler, worth up to $9.6 million. It remains docked in Mauritius but under a New Zealand government bond. 

The actions occurred at the same time that Fairfax Media and the University of Auckland Business School exposed slave-like conditions for mainly Indonesian and Vietnamese crews aboard foreign charter vessels.

After a ministerial inquiry, the Government decided to change the law requiring all fishing boats working the exclusive economic zone to be New Zealand flagged within four years. This will mean they will have to follow New Zealand law.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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