Prosecutors warn anyone who helps Yoo escape
A day after prosecutors put Yoo Byung-eun, the de facto owner of the operator of the sunken Sewol ferry, on the country’s most wanted list, they warned that anyone who helps Yoo in hiding faces up to three years in prison.
They said that even lending a cell phone or offering food to the absconding sect leader and businessman can be liable for punishment.
Authorities investigating the ferry sinking continue to pursue the elusive patriarch of the family that owns the ferry operator after 73-year-old Yoo was charged with tax evasion and embezzlement.
Investigators suspect that Yoo’s allegedly illegal business practices, such as overloading ships, led to the Sewol tragedy.
Following the announcement of a 50 million won ($48,800) reward for information on Yoo’s whereabouts, police yesterday said they received more than 50 phone calls.
The Incheon Metropolitan Police Agency said it is closely examining all the reports.
The agency distributed wanted flyers to 250 police precincts across the country. Also wanted is Yoo’s older son Dae-gyun, who is a major shareholder of the holding company of the ferry operator, the Chonghaejin Marine Company.
The investigation into the ferry disaster involves different parties - the crew of the ship, high-ranking officials of Chonghaejin and the family behind the beleaguered operator.
The probe into the family is proving to be the most difficult because none of the accused members - the patriarch, two sons and one daughter - are complying with the prosecutors’ requests to appear for questioning.
The younger son and daughter currently live abroad, complicating the investigation. The Ministry of Justice dispatched local investigators to discuss potential extradition while local prosecutors are laying the groundwork for grabbing the two’s overseas assets by discussing judicial assistance with the French government. Yoo Som-na, the daughter, lives in Paris.
The Supreme Prosecutors’ Office has also asked the U.S. Homeland Security Investigations directorate to track down real estate and deposits under the names of the siblings or affiliates of the family business.
As for officials of Chonghaejin, a joint team of police and prosecutors yesterday said that five high-ranking officials of the ferry operator will be indicted next Monday on charges of negligence of duty.
The officials include Kim Han-sik, the chief executive of Chonghaejin, and four other employees.
Prosecutors suspect that the five people were previously informed of the ship’s poor stability caused by overloading but ignored the warnings.
The prosecution’s decision follows the indictment of 15 crew including the 69-year-old Cpt. Lee Joon-seok on charges of violating maritime law.
Of the 15 crew members who abandoned the capsized ship, four - the captain, two mates and the chief engineer - were charged with homicide by omission, saying they deliberately evaded their responsibility to protect passengers.
The four face life sentences if convicted.
BY PARK EUN-JEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]