One month on, Yoo Byung-eun remains elusiveAuthorities pursuing Yoo Byung-eun, the shady business tycoon behind the operator of the sunken Sewol ferry, have hit an uncomfortable milestone now that a month has elapsed since the elderly fugitive is believed to have made his escape.
Prosecutors suspect Yoo fled Geumsuwon, the headquarters of the religious sect he co-founded, on or around May 17.
The Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office yesterday questioned a woman surnamed Kim, suspected to have served as Yoo’s secretary in his business dealings, in an attempt to pinpoint his whereabouts, but were unsuccessful in drawing forth any critical information. Kim is alleged to have orchestrated Yoo’s flight.
The prosecution also failed to determine Yoo’s whereabouts even after interrogating his older brother, Byung-il, and Shin Myeong-hee, a 64-year-old believer better known as Shin Eomma, or Mother Shin.
Over the course of their investigation, prosecutors have failed to apprehend Yoo as well as others responsible for contributing to the corruption in his businesses. Kim Pil-bae was named as a primary suspect by eight other close aides of Yoo during their trial yesterday. And Yoo’s eldest son, Yoo Dae-gyun, 44, who is known to have been involved in managing his business network, also has yet to be caught.
Public sentiment toward authorities’ handling of the investigation has generally not been positive, especially in the aftermath of the Sewol ferry accident, which left nearly 300 people dead. Police have come under scrutiny for failing to respond properly and for having inaccurate information.
On Friday, the National Police Agency organized a new team dedicated to Yoo’s capture and distributed wanted posters at local neighborhood meetings. However, the traits for Yoo listed on their sheets were incorrect.
Critics also pointed out that inspections on passing cars were not effective and merely intended for show.
“The police dragnet has loopholes because they failed to gather information in the early stages,” said Kwack Dae-gyung, a professor of police administration at Dongguk University. “Cooperation between local police agencies is not very good. The Gyeonggi police once led operations in South Jeolla, for example.”
A former official from the Korea Coast Guard speculated that Yoo may have already escaped.
“Yoo may have smuggled himself into foreign countries,” the source said. “Even if he hasn’t, it won’t be easy to stop him because it is impossible to monitor more than 2,000 vessels in the southwestern region where he is believed to be hiding.”
BY CHOI KYUNG-HO AND NOH JIN-HO[firstname.lastname@example.org]
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.