Yoo remains elusive as prosecutors narrow searchProsecutors said that they are narrowing their search for Yoo Byung-eun, the troubled business tycoon behind the company that owned and operated the Sewol ferry, combing areas surrounding a shuttered restaurant in Suncheon, in South Jeolla, where his fingerprints were found.
“After confirming his fingerprints, we are narrowing our search and focusing on Suncheon,” an official from the Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office’s special investigation team said.
The most recent clues pointing to the 73-year-old’s potential whereabouts were found over the weekend at the shut-down eatery, where he was suspected of hiding earlier this month. The venue was provided as a refuge by a couple who were adherents of the Evangelical Baptist Church, more commonly known as Guwonpa, or the Salvation Sect, a Christian cult Yoo founded and ran.
Authorities arrested the couple as well as a 33-year-old woman surnamed Shin who is believed to have aided in Yoo’s escape and assisted him during his stay in Suncheon. The woman, who is also an adherent of his church, reportedly scuffled with prosecutors who closed in on them at the shuttered establishment on Sunday night to give him time to flee.
Prosecutors and police officers are narrowing their search on the mountainous areas flanking the restaurant. Judging from Yoo’s travel bag, which they found inside the restaurant, they believe he could not have gone far.
Several rugged mountain paths extend from the restaurant, most of which lead to the foot of Mount Jiri, the second-highest mountain in Korea.
On Tuesday, the Korean Ministry of Justice reported that Yoo’s eldest daughter, Yoo Seom-na, had been detained by French authorities in Paris. The French police were acting on an international arrest warrant issued by local officials, who assume she is closely involved in company matters with her father.
The 48-year-old Yoo is accused of embezzling 8 billion won ($7.8 million) from her affiliates since 2003 while working as the head of Moreal Design in Seoul. Prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for her after she defied their summons late last month to appear for questioning. She was apparently hiding out in a high-end apartment near the Champs-Elysees when the French police cornered her.
French authorities will soon decide whether she will be confined or released under judicial watch, the Associated Press reported. She is currently being held by judicial authorities before appearing before a judge, the AP said.
But although she is in custody, local officials are dubious as to whether they can have her extradited soon. If she files an objection, the extradition process could take as long as a year to settle, said an official from the Ministry of Justice.
In the meantime, prosecutors have increased the reward to half a million dollars for any tips on Yoo Byung-eun’s whereabouts. The troubled billionaire faces a rash of allegations, including embezzlement, tax evasion and professional negligence.
BY LEE SUNG-EUN [email@example.com]
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.
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.