Yoo hunt is hampered by lack of coordinationIt has been nearly three weeks since authorities issued an arrest warrant for Yoo Byung-eun, the de facto owner of the sunken Sewol ferry, but his whereabouts are still unknown.
Even the president has expressed concerns about the prolonged pursuit.
“I know the prosecution and the police are trying hard to apprehend Yoo,” said President Park Geun-hye at a cabinet meeting yesterday, “but it doesn’t make sense they could not catch him after all this time.”
She added, “[The authorities] should review their way of pursuing Yoo and check whether there might be other means so that they can ensure that Yoo is brought to justice.”
It was the third time Park prodded the prosecutors and police after stressing the importance of the pursuit at the last cabinet meeting on May 27 and at a meeting with chief secretaries on June 2.
Critics say prosecutors are not giving the police the intelligence they receive and that has hampered the hunt.
An example was when the prosecutors raided a villa in Suncheon, South Jeolla, on May 25, where Yoo was believed to have stayed after having fled from Geumsuwon in Ansan, Gyeonggi.
The prosecution did not inform the police about the search, so the police could not support the operation. The authorities failed to spot Yoo on that day.
Geumsuwon is the headquarters of the Evangelical Baptist Church, a Christian sect that Yoo founded with his father-in-law. Members of the sect, better known as Guwonpa, or the Salvation Sect, are thought to have helped Yoo escape from the headquarters.
Prosecutors requested support from the police only after they found out that Yoo fled to Haenam County, at the other end of the province, but that didn’t lead to successful cooperation, either.
When the prosecution raided a farm in Haenam that is believed to be owned by the Salvation Sect to look for Yoo last Sunday, prosecutors notified the Haenam Police Precinct only an hour ahead of the raid, not giving enough time to set up a dragnet.
Furthermore, the prosecution should have contacted the South Jeolla Provincial Police Agency, instead of the local police, to receive proper support.
“We understand the prosecution doesn’t want to leak intelligence,” said an officer of the South Jeolla Provincial Police Agency. “But it is hard for the police to set up a systematic search operation if [prosecutors] request cooperation directly from local police stations, not via higher police agencies.”
“Even though we have received intelligence related to Yoo, we did not act on our own without discussing with the prosecution,” added the Commissioner General Lee Sung-han of the National Police Agency.
Experts also emphasize the two authorities should build a close relationship to apprehend Yoo as soon as possible.
“Cooperation between the prosecution and police is important but prosecutors seem to be overlooking it,” said Professor Han Sang-hee of the Konkuk University Law School. “Also, to avoid the appearance that the prosecution is not catching Yoo on purpose, they should set up close cooperation with the police.”
Han added, “When the prosecution doesn’t have many investigators and the police know the area better, it may be better to let the police take the lead of the investigation. If prosecutors keep intelligence to themselves and try to take all the credit, it will take forever to catch Yoo.”
BY LEE KA-YOUNG AND KIM BONG-MOON[firstname.lastname@example.org]