News / Asia

South Korea Ferry Fugitive Hid Behind Cabin Wall

The image of Yoo Byung-un, owner of the sunken ferry, on a television at the Seoul Railway Station in South Korea, July 22, 2014. Police say a badly decomposed body found in a field last month was that of the fugitive billionaire blamed for April's ferry
The image of Yoo Byung-un, owner of the sunken ferry, on a television at the Seoul Railway Station in South Korea, July 22, 2014. Police say a badly decomposed body found in a field last month was that of the fugitive billionaire blamed for April's ferry
Reuters

South Korea's most wanted man, whose heavily decomposed body was found in an orchard last month, had evaded arrest by hiding behind an upstairs wall of a wooden cabin, with suitcases of cash at hand, prosecutors said on Wednesday.

The body of Yoo Byung-un, 73, wanted in connection with the sinking of a ferry in April, was only identified this week, more than a month after he was found lying next to a copy of a book he had written, empty bottles of alcohol nearby, ending the country's biggest and most dramatic manhunt.

“We did all we could to find Yoo and are devastated we couldn't find him alive,” Kim Hoe-jong, a senior prosecutor, told a media briefing in Incheon, the city west of Seoul where the ferry began its last voyage.

For two months, wanted posters offering a reward for Yoo's capture faded under the summer sun or disintegrated in the rain while thousands of police combed the country looking for a man who co-founded a church, held an exhibition of photographs at the Louvre in Paris and did jail time for fraud.

On June 12, the same day farmer Park Yoon-seok found Yoo's body in his plum orchard, thousands of police and prosecutors were busy raiding Yoo's sprawling religious compound 215 km away, going as far as searching for tunnels with mechanical diggers.

Yoo headed the family that owned the company that operated the Sewol, a ferry that capsized on April 16 on a journey to the holiday island of Jeju, killing about 300 people, most of them schoolchildren, and triggering an outpouring of grief across the country.

Kitchen-sink drama

At the modest but well-appointed, two-story cabin on the outskirts of Suncheon where Yoo had holed up, its entrance cordoned off by police tape, plates and other tableware could still be seen piled up beside the kitchen sink.

Bags of clothes lay on the floor next to a washing machine, and bibles and a calendar still open to the month of May were visible through a window.

Police raided the cabin, called “Memory in Wood”, on May 25 but failed to find the multi-millionaire, who had hidden behind a wooden wall.

When they returned last month, acting on testimony given by an assistant, police found two suitcases that between them contained 830 million won ($810,800) and $160,000, tagged with numbers 4 and 5, prosecutors said, suggesting more cash may have been stashed elsewhere.

It was not clear how, or when, the health-obsessed Yoo traveled the two kilometers to where his body was found nearly three weeks later between orchard saplings, clad in an expensive winter coat and beside a bag containing the alcohol bottles, a change of clothes and a pack of plums.

There was also the book, “Greater Love has No One Than This”, written in 1995 while Yoo was serving four years in prison for fraud, and an empty bottle of a shark-liver-oil health tonic, made by a Yoo family company.

'Chasing a ghost'

Prosecutors say Yoo had been helped during his flight by a network of members of the church he co-founded, now called the Evangelical Baptist Church. The church has denied the allegations.

The ferry disaster triggered outrage across the country - especially when video footage emerged of crew members abandoning ship while the children stayed in their cabins as instructed.

​The Sewol's 15 surviving crew members, including the captain, are on trial on charges ranging from negligence to homicide.

Wanted on charges of embezzlement, negligence and tax evasion, Yoo had managed to elude the country's largest manhunt in what had become a political headache for President Park Geun-hye, whose government came under heavy criticism for its handling of the disaster.

On Tuesday, Suncheon's police chief said the body in the orchard had been identified with DNA and fingerprint evidence as Yoo. He was sacked the same day over his handling of the case.

Authorities had offered a reward equivalent to nearly half a million dollars for information leading to Yoo's arrest and detained several family members. Prosecutors said they were still pursuing his son, Yoo Dae-gyun, and would try to seek out the late patriarch's wealth.

“We thought since he had money, he must have been eating well in a warm place,” said a 57-year-old who lives near the plum orchard and gave her name only as Ji. “Police didn't know they were chasing a ghost.”

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs