Sewol ferry disaster
Portraits of students who died in the mid-April Sewol ferry disaster, decorated by yellow ribbons dedicated to the victims, are pictured in central Seoul on Oct. 27, 2014. Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji

The eldest son and two brothers of business tycoon Yoo Byung-eun, owner of the South Korean ferry Sewol that sank in April killing hundreds, were charged with embezzling funds and sentenced to prison by a district court in Incheon.

Yoo Dae-kyoon, 44, was charged with misappropriating funds worth 7.39 billion won ($7.28 million) from Sewol ferry operator Cheonghaejin Marine Co. and six other affiliates, between May 2002 and December 2013, according to Yonhap, a local news agency. Authorities suspect that the corruption might have led to the sinking of the ferry, which became the country's worst maritime disaster in peacetime. Prosecutors allege that the vessel, which was carrying over 300 passengers, was illegally modified and overloaded.

The younger Yoo was arrested from a hideout in a town outside the capital city of Seoul, in July, and received a three-year prison sentence. Prosecutors had initially sought a four-year jail term for him.

"The suspect embezzled tens of billions of won from affiliates by abusing his status as the son of Yoo Byung-eun," Lee Jae-wook, of the Incheon District Court, said in his ruling, according to Yonhap. The court also announced jail terms, between 18 months to four years, to 10 of his closest aides.

Yoo Byung-ho, the younger brother of the shipping magnate, was sentenced to two years in jail after being charged with borrowing 3 billion won from an affiliate controlled by his elder brother's family. He was also found guilty of making a religious group’s members pay 1.5 billion won on his behalf, following which an affiliate of the ferry company bore the cost as a loss. Yoo Byung-ill, the elder brother, was found guilty of embezzling a total of 13 million won from Chonghaejin Marine as consulting fees between June 2010 and April 2014 and sentenced to a year in jail.

The Sewol ferry sank off the country’s southwestern island of Jindo on April 16, while it was taking passengers, mostly school children, to the southern resort island of Jeju from Incheon. Most of those who perished in the accident were high school students who were on a school trip. Nearly 174 people were rescued from the ferry. A massive search was launched to find Yoo Byung-eun, who had fled after the ferry sank, and police found his decomposed body in July in a field in Suncheon, about 186 miles south of Seoul.