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(2nd LD) Arrest warrant reissued for fugitive Sewol owner

2014/07/21 16:31

(ATTN: CHANGES dateline; UPDATES with more information from 8th para)

SEOUL/INCHEON, July 21 (Yonhap) -- A district court on Monday once again issued a warrant to arrest the fugitive owner of the sunken ferry Sewol, who has been evading a massive manhunt for nearly two months.

Yoo Byung-eun, the 73-year-old billionaire who owns ferry operator Chonghaejin Marine Co., has been at large since the marine disaster on April 16 that claimed more than 300 lives.

His first arrest warrant, which was issued on May 22, is set to expire on Tuesday.

The Incheon District Court in the namesake western port city on Monday issued the warrant with a six-month expiration date.

"Yoo is showing signs of systematic escape," judge Ahn Dong-beum said in issuing the warrant. "The court took in consideration various factors such as the prosecution's will to catch him."

Prosecutors suspect that corruption by Yoo and his family resulted in lax safety practices, such as cargo overloading, and created conditions that ultimately led to one of the country's worst peacetime disasters.

Authorities have been offering bounties of 500 million won (US$489,000) and 100 million won, respectively, as rewards for information leading to the capture of Yoo and his eldest son, Dae-kyun.

Meanwhile, the wife and the brother-in-law of the fugitive owner denied at a court hearing that they embezzled funds from a religious sect in which the owner family remain as influential members.

Yoo's wife, Kwon Yun-ja, was arraigned on charges of helping her younger brother, Kwon Oh-kyun, funnel funds worth nearly 30 billion won into his business after taking out loans using as collateral assets belonging to the Evangelical Baptist Church in 2010, according to prosecutors.

"The defendant denies all the charges brought by the prosecution," Kwon's lawyer said during a hearing on the case at the Incheon District Court. "She never gave an order to help her brother nor is she in a position to do so."

   As well as being an influential member of the church, the younger Kwon acts as the chief of Trigon Korea, a local builder and core affiliate of Chonghaejin Marine, prosecutors said.

Also on Monday, the elder brother of Yoo Byung-eun attended his first trial at the same court.

Yoo Byung-ill was indicted on charges of having received a combined 13 million won from Chonghaejin Marine as consulting fees between June 2010 and April 2014, prosecutors said.

The top prosecution office, meanwhile, said a total of 331 people have been booked for investigation for allegedly playing roles related to the tragedy.

The Supreme Prosecutors' Office (SPO) said 139 people, including Sewol crewmen, family members of Yoo and Coast Guard officials, have been detained pending trial.

"The prosecution will uncover the truth behind the tragedy without a single doubt left behind," said an SPO official. "We will also put utmost efforts in tracing Yoo to round him up and seize his hidden assets as well."