News / Asia

S. Korea Ferry Family Boss Eludes Biggest, Most Bizarre Manhunt

An Evangelical Baptist Church believer shouts slogans against the government as police officers stand guard in font of believers sitting by the main gate of the church in Anseong, South Korea, June 11, 2014.
An Evangelical Baptist Church believer shouts slogans against the government as police officers stand guard in font of believers sitting by the main gate of the church in Anseong, South Korea, June 11, 2014.
Reuters
South Korea's biggest and most bizarre manhunt, linked to a ferry disaster in which hundreds drowned, has come full circle at the compound of a sect known for its organic ice cream as police on Thursday used earth movers to search for tunnels.
 
Police have raided the grounds of the Evangelical Baptist Church in Anseong, a two-hour drive south of Seoul, twice as they try to flush out church co-founder Yoo Byung-un, 73, South Korea's most wanted man since the Sewol ferry sank in April killing more than 300 people, mostly children from the same school.
 
But, so far, Yoo, a businessman and photographer who was once jailed for fraud, has eluded capture in a case which has become an embarrassment for authorities already under pressure for their handling of the disaster.
 
Yoo is wanted on charges of embezzlement, negligence and tax evasion stemming from a web of business holdings centered on I-One-I, an investment vehicle owned by his sons that ran the shipping company, Chonghaejin Marine.
 
Chonghaejin owned the Sewol which sank off the southwest coast on April 16 on a routine journey from Incheon on the mainland to the southern holiday island of Jeju.
 
Of the 476 passengers and crew on board, 339 were children and teachers from the same school. Only 172 people were rescued and the remainder are all presumed to have drowned.
 
The hunt for Yoo, who once held a photographic exhibition at the Louver in Paris, has sent authorities chasing leads from the sect compound to remote towns in southwestern Jeolla province - and back again to the compound.
 
The latest raid began on Wednesday and involved 6,000 police and investigators. Besides Yoo and one son, prosecutors said they were looking for two middle-aged female sect members known as “mamas” accused of helping him escape. Dogs roamed the compound sniffing for scent from Yoo's belongings.
 
Last month, police arrested a man on suspicion that he delivered organic food grown and marketed by the church to Yoo, as well as one of his drivers. Some church members handed out ice cream to police and journalists on Wednesday. Others  threatened to fight police.
 
One said church members would protect Yoo.
 
“I don't know where he is, but he won't turn up until everything is clear about why the ferry sank,” a man who said he had been a sect member for 30 years, told Reuters outside the compound.
 
“I respect him as a mentor. He is our fellow believer and we will protect him.”
 
Desperately seeking Yoo
 
Authorities have offered a half-million-dollar reward for Yoo, the maximum allowed for an individual in a criminal case, and quietly enlisted the military, a sensitive subject in a country where memories remain vivid of troops mobilized to suppress democracy movements from the 1960s to the 1980s.
 
Police said they believe Yoo and one son are still in the country. Another son is based in the United States and his whereabouts could not be established By Reuters.
 
“We haven't received information that they have stowed away or left for somewhere. We believe we can capture Yoo and his son,” Lee Sang-won, commissioner of the Incheon Metropolitan Police Agency, said.
 
Yoo's daughter, Yoo Som-Na, has been held in France since May 28 after Interpol called for her arrest “for fraud and embezzlement”. She was denied bail on Wednesday.
 
There have been no charges against Yoo directly related to the ferry disaster, although prosecutors are trying to establish a link between the financial charges and the sinking.
 
Fifteen members of the ferry's crew are on trial on charges ranging from homicide to negligence after they were caught on video abandoning ship as the children stayed put in their cabins.
 
Enlisting the military's help in the hunt shows just how desperate the government is to catch Yoo and satisfy an outraged public's demand for accountability.
 
“Basically in the south and west, the units based there have been looking out for people illegally entering, especially at night,” Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok told a news briefing. “Related to that, there's a chance Yoo Byung-un may try to secretly flee, so guard duties are focused a little more on people being smuggled out.”
 
Fatigue has become a factor as the manhunt drags on, with about a dozen investigators photographed sprawled out napping in a gym inside the Anseong compound during Wednesday's raid.
 
President Park Geun-hye this week said “it made no sense” that such a massive search operation had come up empty, and some sect members suggested the raid was staged to placate a bloodthirsty public.
 
Yu Chang-seon, an independent political commentator, said the search was excessive, expressing a minority view in a country still in mourning.
 
“Considering the charges against Yoo, this is basically a financial case,” he said. “We should be holding him responsible to some degree, but the scale of the whole thing is unprecedented.”

You May Like

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu 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.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid