Yoos’ wings must be clipped

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Yoos’ wings must be clipped

Yoo Byung-eun, the fugitive billionaire wanted for questioning on a number of fraud and malpractice charges as de facto owner of the sunken ferry Sewol, has been rejected by a third country after requesting political asylum, prosecutors said.

Yoo, 73, and his son defied repeated summons by prosecutors and went into hiding. A 50 million won (about $488,000) reward has been posted for information on his whereabouts. Last week, Yoo sought asylum at a foreign embassy in Seoul, citing political and religious persecution. The embassy turned down his request as he is on the run from a number of criminal charges.

But the information suggests that Yoo is trying to flee the country. Yoo and his eldest son, Dae-gyun, who was running the ferry’s operating company Chonghaejin, are suspected of illicitly funnelling funds into the family’s private fortune at the expense of the Sewol’s safety. Many have raised concerns about the two escaping overseas, and evidence pointed out that Yoo has been hiding in the port city of Suncheon, South Jeolla. Yoo could use his business connections from 25 years of involvement in the ferry business to escape as a stowaway.

A criminal case is jeopardized if the primary suspect flees to another country. The case against Cho Hee-pal, a notorious con man, went nowhere after he managed to run away to China in 2008 after pulling the largest-ever pyramid scheme, amounting to losses of more than 4 trillion won. Religious cult leader Jeong Myung-seok, accused of raping female followers, was on the international wanted list for nine years before he was caught and returned to Korea in 2008.

If the Yoos escape overseas, the Sewol investigation could be seriously undermined. Law enforcement officials must do their best to hunt them down before they leave the country or we will never get to the bottom of the illegal ferry operation and the company’s suspicious business deals, including collusion with administrators and regulators.

Officers must strengthen the inspection operation around port areas. Bringing the two dubious businessmen to justice would be the first step to restoring law and order and rebuilding the country’s foundation based on safety. They must expand the search to ports and coastal regions across the country and tighten security at gateways to these areas. The authorities must be hot on the trail. We cannot afford to let the Yoos escape justice.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 4, Page 26



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