Sect rebels against hunt for owner of the Sewol

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Sect rebels against hunt for owner of the Sewol

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Some believers of the Evangelical Baptist Church barricade themselves yesterday at the main entrance to the church in Anseong, Gyeonggi. [NEWS1]

Hundreds of adherents of the Evangelical Baptist Church, founded by the de facto owner of the overloaded and doomed Sewol ferry, declared war on authorities trying to track him and his family down.

They said if prosecutors and police officers force open the gate of the church to arrest the owner, Yoo Byung-eun, and his eldest son, they would stage a “religious crusade.”

More than 100 adherents of the church, also called “the Salvation sect,” staged a sit-in protest yesterday inside the main gate of the church’s headquarters in a remote mountainous area in Anseong, Gyeonggi, to block prosecutors or police from gaining access.

The protesters insisted the church had nothing to do with the ferry disaster on April 16, in which 281 died and 23 are missing. They said they could not confirm whether any of the Yoo family members were in the complex, but claimed no one had seen any.

“It is totally nonsense to say there is a connection between the accident [the ferry’s sinking] and the Salvation sect,” Jo Gye-wung, an administrative official at the church, told reporters outside the church’s gate.

“We are trying to block the prosecution from entering the church. I am not sure whether Yoo Byung-eun is here or not, but there is no one here who has seen him in the church.”

Jo said there were about 300 or 400 believers in the church, who gathered after they saw news of the prosecution’s visit to the headquarters.

Another adherent told reporters that Yoo’s eldest son Dae-gyun was not in the church.

“Yoo Dae-gyun was not an important person for the church,” he said. “I’m sure the son is not here now.”

Half of the believers were their 20s or 30s.

About 20 security guards and other people surrounded the main gate to prevent reporters and prosecutors from entering. A sign was erected reading, “No crackdown on religion!” and “Protect the freedom of religion.” One protester announced through a megaphone, “We will be martyred if necessary.”

The prosecutors are trying to find and arrest Yoo Byung-eun, the de facto owner of Cheonghaejin Marine Company, and his eldest son, a major shareholder of the operator. The son is accused of illegally pocketing tens of billions of won in company funds and setting up a shell company to facilitate or conceal financial irregularities committed by his father. They both ignored notices from the prosecution to come in for questioning.

Prosecutors are trying to verify the company structure and the use of company funds to figure out if the owner is responsible for the ferry’s poor safety management, including overloading, which may have caused the maritime disaster.

Prosecutors raided the son’s house on Tuesday but failed to find any family members inside. They couldn’t get into the church’s headquarters without causing a violent confrontation with the adherents.

Starting Tuesday, the adherents blocked the gate all night long and took turns guarding it. Some chanted hymns, and others arranged chairs and provided water for reporters sitting outside.

They said they have a canteen that can accommodate up to 800 people in the headquarters.

One protester shouted yesterday, “There is nowhere for us to back off! We will stake our lives to protect the church!”

The prosecution yesterday said it put Yoo Dae-gyun on a nationwide wanted list, classifying him as a “Class-A” suspect. He can be arrested on the spot if found by police.

When asked about the church protest, a prosecution official said at a briefing, “We are investigating managerial problems at Cheonghaejin and its affiliates, not a certain religious group.

“We are aware of the whereabouts of Yoo Byung-eun,” the official said. “But we can’t tell you where they are right now.”

BY KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

Correction and rebuttal statement by the Evangelical Baptist Church

The Korea JoongAng Daily, regarding the reports since April 16, 2014, about the Evangelical Baptist Church (EBC) and Yoo Byung-eun, is publishing the following corrections and an excerpt from the rebuttal statement by the EBC.

Correction

Through three past investigations by the prosecution, it has been revealed that Yoo and the EBC, also known as the “Salvation Group” and Guwonpa in Korean, are not related to the Odaeyang mass suicide incident. That was also confirmed by the prosecution in its official statement on May 21. The prosecution’s investigation also found that Yoo had not made an attempt to smuggle himself out of the country or seek political asylum in France. We, therefore, correct the concerned reports.

Yoo retired from his executive management position in 1997. He did not own any shares in the noted companies, nor had he managed operations or used the operating funds for personal reasons. There are no grounds to call him the actual owner and chairman of the company. As such, he did not provide any directives in regards to the overloading of the Sewol ferry or its renovation.

It was verified that the captain and crew members who abandoned ship at the time of the Sewol ferry accident are not members of the EBC. It has also been verified that the EBC does not own any shares of Chonghaejin Marine Company and did not engage in its management.

Rebuttal statement

The EBC’s position is that the museums in the United States and Europe can never authorize an exhibition unless the artistic value of an artist’s works is recognized by the screening committee, irrespective of the amount of money an artist donates. The EBC’s position is that the exhibitions were not a result of Mr. Yoo’s patronage or donation, and Yoo also has not coerced Chonghaejin and its affiliates to purchase his photos.

The EBC states that Yoo did not participate in the foundation of the EBC in 1981, and the church does not offer him the title “pastor.” It also says a significant part of the 240 billion won ($206 million) worth of assets suspected of belonging to the Yoo family are real estate properties owned by the farming associations, which had been established by church members.

The EBC states that there are certain churches in Korea that call the EBC a cult, solely based on differences between their’s and the EBC’s doctrines.

But the EBC does not worship a particular individual as a religious sect leader or preach any doctrine that contradicts the Bible.


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