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(LEAD) Sewol owner put on wanted list

2014/05/22 16:02

INCHEON, May 22 (Yonhap) -- The de facto owner of a sunken ferry was put on the most wanted list Thursday after he repeatedly ignored the prosecution's summons for questioning over corruption allegations, prosecutors said.

Yoo Byung-eun -- an entrepreneur, artist, ex-convict and religious figure -- is believed to own Chonghaejin Marine Co., which operated the ferry Sewol that sank off the southwest coast last month, leaving more than 300 people dead or missing.

After a district court issued a warrant to detain Yoo, prosecutors immediately asked police to label Yoo and his eldest son, Dae-kyun, as fugitives, and announced a 50 million won (US$48,800) reward for information leading to the elder Yoo's arrest and 30 million won for his son.

"The father and the son are criminals who are on the most wanted list," Kim Hoe-jong, a senior prosecutor investigating the case, said in a press briefing. Kim further asked citizens and members of a religious group, in which Yoo remains an influential founding member, to report their whereabouts to the authorities.

"The prosecution will deal sternly with anyone who helps the Yoo family in the future course of the investigation," Kim said.

Earlier in the day, the court issued the warrant for the mysterious owner, saying, "Yoo is judged to have fled, and there is fear that he may destroy evidence."

   The prosecution suspects that corruption by Yoo, whose two sons own stakes in the firm through various subsidiaries, resulted in lax safety practices, such as cargo overloading, and created circumstances that ultimately led to the April 16 sinking.

The prosecution further alleged that the Yoo family established three paper companies to create slush funds and illegally transfer money abroad by embezzling corporate funds while failing to fulfill the duty of properly managing the companies.

Prosecutors have tried to determine whether the family illegally used the ferry operator and other businesses to accumulate a fortune, but the family members have ignored their summonses.

As part of efforts to find and arrest the two, a team of prosecutors and investigators on Wednesday entered the premise belonging to the Evangelical Baptist Church, where the two were suspected of hiding.

After an intensive search of the sprawling religious compound nestled between mountains near Anseong, just south of Seoul, prosecutors, however, failed to locate the father and the son.

(END)

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