Prosecutors, police shift their search for elder Yoo

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Prosecutors, police shift their search for elder Yoo

Authorities chasing after fugitive Yoo Byung-eun, the de facto owner of the Sewol ferry, have virtually withdrawn from Suncheon, South Jeolla, where the 73-year-old was believed to have previously hidden.

The team from Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office dedicated to Yoo’s arrest called in personnel dispatched to Suncheon to transfer them for the June 11 raid of Geumsuwon in Anseong, Gyeonggi, but they did not return to Suncheon. Geumsuwon is the headquarters of the Evangelical Baptist Church, the sect co-founded in the 1960s by Yoo and his father-in-law. It is better known as Guwonpa, or the Salvation Sect.

Joo Yeong-hwan, who is leading the team, is currently working at the prosecutors’ office.

“The office used by the team at the Suncheon branch of the Gwangju District Prosecutors’ Office is still there, but all of those who worked there came back [to Incheon],” an official from the Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office said. “But the local police are still searching for Yoo and are inspecting passing cars in Suncheon.”

Some say the prosecution has completely lost any chance they had at catching Yoo. Investigators were first sent to Suncheon immediately after the prosecution received Yoo’s arrest warrant on May 22, but they were only able to round up a few of the business tycoon’s aides. They also discovered CCTV footage that shows a car registered to a Guwonpa adherent, though they failed to locate the fugitive.

As Yoo continues to evade arrest, some speculate he may have moved to North Jeolla or have already stowed away. However, nothing has been confirmed.

The prosecution and the police appear to be dividing their tasks, with prosecutors focusing on investigating Yoo’s close aides and seizing his assets and the police pursuing Yoo on foot.

“The prosecution and the police are jointly conducting operations to apprehend Yoo, so we cannot say we have withdrawn completely [from Suncheon],” an official from the Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office added.

On Thursday, the prosecution arrested Yoo’s younger sister Yoo Gyeong-hee, 56, and her husband Oh Gabriel, 59, a former ambassador to the Czech Republic, for allegedly aiding Yoo’s escape. Authorities also suspect Oh helped Yoo when he tried to seek asylum at the French Embassy in Seoul.

BY NOH JIN-HO, KIM BONG-MOON [bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]



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