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(LEAD) Fugitive Sewol owner tries to seek asylum: prosecution

2014/06/03 15:58

INCHEON, June 3 (Yonhap) -- The fugitive owner of the sunken ferry Sewol attempted to seek asylum at a foreign embassy in Seoul last week, but was denied due to his status as a criminal suspect, prosecutors said Tuesday.

A massive manhunt has been under way for weeks for Yoo Byung-eun, who is wanted for a string of corruption charges and irregularities that are believed to have contributed to the April 16 sinking of the Sewol that claimed the lives of nearly 300 people, mostly high school students.

"An anonymous person recently sounded out a foreign embassy in Seoul for Yoo's political asylum," said Kim Hoe-jong, the head of the special investigation team at the Incheon District Prosecutors' Office.

"The embassy declined to offer an asylum to (Yoo) as he is a criminal suspect," Kim added, without discosing the name of the country due to diplomatic reasons.

The prosecution office also asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to once again explain to foreign embassies here that Yoo should not be granted an asylum status as he is the main suspect behind the Sewol disaster, Kim said.

Prosecutors suspect that Yoo -- a religious figure and ex-convict-- effectively owns Chonghaejin Marine Co., the ill-fated ferry's operator, through two of his sons and is responsible for the ship's allegedly lax safety practices.

Motivated by profit, the operator overloaded the ship with passengers and cargo even though its balance was substantially compromised after a remodeling.

As part of efforts to confiscate huge assets held by the Yoo family, the prosecution office said it has seized four high-end sedans from Yoo's eldest son, Dae-kyun.

The prosecution also last month hiked the amount of the rewards for information leading to the arrests of the owner and Yoo Dae-kyun, to 500 million won (US$488,158) and 100 million won, respectively.

khj@yna.co.kr

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