SKorean manhunt for suspected owner of sunken ferry

Members of public tip off authorities amid promise of reward for information that could lead to arrest of sunken ferry’s suspected owner

SKorean manhunt for suspected owner of sunken ferry

World Bulletin/News Desk

South Korean prosecutors said Friday they have received several leads after placing the de facto owner of the Sewol ferry on the country’s most wanted list.

Since the Sewol sank off South Korea’s coast last month – leaving more than 300 dead or still missing – investigators have sought to question Yoo Byung-eun, who is believed to own the ferry’s operator, Chonghaejin Marine Co.

Yoo was labeled as a fugitive Thursday after a court issued a warrant to detain him. A 50 million won (US$48,800) reward was offered for information about his whereabouts, along with another 30 million won for help tracking down one of his sons.

The around 150 detectives and police officers tasked with the search have been promised a promotion if successful and are aided by the circulation of tens of thousands of wanted posters.

Senior prosecutor Kim Hoe-jong told media Friday, "We have received many tip-offs after putting Yoo on the wanted list.”

Yoo and his family members have ignored summons for questioning over accusations that they created slush funds and embezzled funds.

The prosecution claims that corruption by 73-year-old Yoo, a former convict and religious figure, may have led to the relaxation of safety standards ahead of the Sewol’s sinking.

Investigators examining the cause of the disaster also expressed Friday plans to indict five Chonghaejin Marine Co. officials, including Chief Executive Kim Han-sik, on charges of neglecting their duty to supervise the ship.

Announcing their findings, they told reporters that the Sewol had been overloaded with cargo and that its crew had been inadequately trained.

With the search for Yoo himself ongoing, senior prosecutor Kim urged his supporters not to impede their efforts, warning they “will deal sternly with anyone who helps the Yoo family in the future course of the investigation.”

Yoo’s backers include a religious sect known as the Evangelical Baptist Church, which had been suspected of hiding the influential figure.

Prosecutors gained access to the sect’s compound south of Seoul Wednesday after a blockade by church members that had lasted days.

Yoo is the son-in-law of the founder of the Evangelical Baptist Church, also known as the Salvation Sect.

Church members deny claims that the sect refers to Yoo as “Moses,” and also insist they had no part in a mass suicide in 1987.

That incident led to Yoo being investigated and subsequently cleared of involvement, although he was convicted of investing donations by church members in his own businesses.

The entrepreneur’s Semo Corp., a forerunner to Chonghaejin Marine Co. founded in 1979, was also linked with a series of accidents before going bankrupt – including the deaths of 14 workers in 1991 when one of its cruise ships was involved in a collision on the Han River.

In a further demonstration of Yoo’s diverse interests, he has had photographic work exhibited at the Louvre and Palace of Versailles in France – reports claim Chonghaejin Marine Co. affiliates bought the works.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 23 Mayıs 2014, 17:30