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(LEAD) Park orders quick arrest of fugitive ferry owner

2014/05/27 12:59

SEOUL, May 27 (Yonhap) -- President Park Geun-hye ordered a quick arrest of the fugitive owner of the sunken ferry Sewol on Tuesday, saying he is the "root cause" of the tragic sinking and must be brought to justice.

Park issued the order during a Cabinet meeting as the 73-year-old owner, Yoo Byung-eun, has evaded a massive manhunt for weeks. He is wanted for a string of corruption charges and irregularities that are believed to have caused the ferry to sink, leaving more than 300 people dead or missing.

"The Yoo Byung-eun family, the root cause of this tragedy, is ridiculing the law and causing indignation among the people even though they must repent before the people and reveal the truth. This is a challenge to our society and a crime that cannot be protected or defended by anything," Park said.

"I hope law enforcement authorities will do their best to make a quick arrest so as to help reveal the truth and bring him to justice," she said.

Prosecutors suspect Yoo effectively owns the ferry's operator, Chonghaejin Marine, and is responsible for its allegedly lax safety practices. Motivated by profit, the operator overloaded the ship with passengers and cargo even though its balance was substantially compromised after remodeling.

Prosecutors have put up a 500 million won (US$489,000) bounty for him.

Park told the Cabinet to make sure to carry out a series of reform measures that she announced last week to upgrade the country's safety standards and end corruption and irregularities undermining them. One key point of the measures was a decision to disband the Coast Guard.

Park said the decision was not simply a punishment of the agency for failing to respond properly to the disaster, but is aimed at prioritizing its duties in a way that puts a greater focus on rescue missions so as to prevent such a disaster from happening again.

Park also said she would create a post of deputy prime minister in charge of educational, social and cultural affairs. She said such non-economic areas also need a "control tower" just as the existing deputy prime minister oversees economic affairs and as the national security adviser takes care of security affairs.

The education minister is expected to double as deputy prime minister for educational, social and cultural affairs just as the finance minister doubles as the deputy prime minister for economic affairs, sources said.

The envisioned changes in the government organization are subject to parliamentary approval.

Meanwhile, Park ordered the Cabinet to make sure the upcoming local elections will be held in a clean and fair manner. Ministers should pay extra attention to ensuring that government officials won't engage in remarks and acts that violate their obligation to maintain political neutrality, she said.

jschang@yna.co.kr

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