Prosecutors warn anyone who helps Yoo escape

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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.


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.


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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