Damages against Dongwon Industries for allegedly fraudulently getting around US vessel licensing laws could total over $100 million, if the legal action from a US law firm is successful.
Moore & Company, a Florida-based law firm, is accusing Dongwon of using a scheme involving the nieces of Jae-chul Kim, chairman of the South Korean fishing group, to set up sham ownership of tuna fishing vessels using Delaware-registered companies so it could obtain fishing licenses to fish in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Pacific Island Nations.
This is an area where US licenses are reserved for US-owned and managed vessels, according to Moore.
The law firm has not pled an amount the action is worth, said Blair Brogan, of Moore. "However, we allege violations of the vessel documentation act, which include fines of up to $10,000 a day per vessel for each day the vessels are in violation, as well as violations of MARPOL [International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution From Ships], which includes damages of up to $25,000 for each violation," she told Undercurrent News. "Altogether, the damages may total upwards of $100m."
Dongwon is accused, in the amended claim filed by Moore on Jan. 10 in the US district court for Delaware, of using straw companies to control Majestic Blue and another seiner, Pacific Breeze, to gain access to fishing licenses for which only US citizens are eligible.
Dongwon denies any wrongdoing and cites the decision from the US government not to get involved in a lawsuit as a victory.
“The United States government has not brought any fraud claims against Dongwon,” wrote the company.
“Although the United States has the right to intervene in the lawsuit if it believes the lawsuit has merit, here it has expressly declined to intervene (or to participate) in the action or to directly pursue the False Claims Act litigation against the company, even though the government has investigated the allegations made in the lawsuit by the Moore law firm,” continued the statement from the South Korean firm, sent to Undercurrent.
The allegations contained in the claim are linked to two separate ongoing legal processes around the sinking of Pacific Breeze and the death of its skipper, David Hill.
Moore is representing Hill's widow, Amy, in a lawsuit alleging wrongful death, caused by negligence from Dongwon.