A shameful portrait of an investigation

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A shameful portrait of an investigation

Conspiracy theories and suspicions surrounding fabrication have continued to circulate over the death of Yoo Byung-eun, the de factor owner of the Sewol ferry. The police announced that the DNA and fingerprint matches confirmed that the dead body found in Suncheon, South Jeolla, was indeed his. His identity was confirmed 40 days after his body was found on June 12, though many Koreans don’t trust the police report. Different theories spread on social network services, and the police and the prosecution are largely responsible for these rumors.

In the initial stages of the investigation, the prosecution was too passive in its efforts to capture Yoo, even when his charges, including embezzlement, were confirmed. They believed Yoo would respond to a summons for questioning. But when followers from the businessman’s religious cult, commonly known as the Salvation Sect, gathered at Geumsuwon, in Anseong, Gyeonggi, the group’s retreat where Yoo was staying in May, the police were reluctant to make an arrest.

The believers insisted that the manhunt was a religious persecution, and the police were unwilling to enforce the law. Meanwhile, Yoo escaped from the retreat and hid in a villa in Suncheon. By the time the police entered Geumsuwon to arrest him, he had already been found dead in a plum orchard near the villa. An investigator from the prosecution was sleeping when the retreat was raided, and there were rumors that investigation information was leaked to Geumsuwon.

Cooperation between the prosecution and the police was also disorganized. The police struggled in their arrest operation because the prosecution didn’t share certain information about Yoo and those close to him.

“The prosecution just notified them that the eldest son of Yoo Byung-eun was hiding in a certain area, without providing any details,” a police official said. “The search operation could not be carried out thoroughly because the police did not have [all the necessary] information.”

But the police were also at fault. When the body was found in the orchard in Suncheon, they didn’t believe it could be Yoo’s remains. Even though the dead man was dressed in designer clothes, they believed it was the corpse of a homeless person. The body was found just 2.5 kilometers (1.6 miles) from the villa at which Yoo had been hiding.

It was irrational for authorities to believe the man was homeless. If they had checked the brand names on his clothing or the articles he was carrying, it would have been obvious. The police admitted that there had been flaws in the initial investigation.

The Sewol ferry disaster has made citizens distrustful of the investigation authorities. Overall slackness and incompetency have been revealed in the course of rescue operation by the coast guard. Now, the slack investigation by the police and prosecutors is under fire. They must thoroughly investigate the corruption of the Yoo family and present an outcome that can convince the citizens.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 23, Page 29

*The author is a national news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.


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.

Rebuttal statement

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.

‘유병언의 시신 어느 부분의 시료가 유전자(DNA)검사에 사용되었는지 명확하지 않다. 지문 일치도 믿을 게 못 된다.’(sky9999) ‘조선시대 포졸 수준의 무능ㆍ태만ㆍ무감각…왜 자고나면 더 많은 의문과 의심이 생기는지 알고 싶다.’(conus9)
또 다시 조작설이 고개를 들고 있다. 음모론도 제기된다. 세월호의 실제 주인인 유병언(73·청해진해운 회장)씨의 사망 사실을 두고서다. 경찰은 DNA와 지문검사로 시신이 유씨로 확인됐다고 발표했다. 지난달 12일 전남 순천에서 유씨의 시신을 발견한 뒤 40일이 돼서야 신원을 확인한 것이다.
상당수는 이를 믿지 못하겠다고 한다. 소시얼네트워크서비스(SNS) 등에는 조작설이 등장한다. 상황이 이렇게 된 데에는 검찰과 경찰의 책임이 크다.
검찰은 수사 초기 단계에 유씨의 횡령 등 혐의를 확인하고도 검거에 소극적이었다. 소환요구에 순순히 응할 것으로 본 것이다. 지난 5월 그가 머물고 있던 경기도 안성의 금수원에 신도들이 모여들자 체포를 머뭇거렸다. 종교탄압이라는 신도들의 저항에 법 집행 의지는 꺾였다. 이런 사이 유씨는 유유히 금수원을 빠져나가 전남 순천의 한 별장에 몸을 숨겼다. 검찰이 검거하기 위해 금수원에 진입했을 때 그는 순천의 매실 밭에서 숨진 상태로 발견됐다. 검찰 수사관이 금수원 압수수색 중 잠을 잤고, 수사 정보가 금수원으로 흘러가고 있다는 소문도 들렸다. 이 때마다 검찰의 수사의지를 의심하는 목소리가 들렸다. 경찰과 공조에도 문제가 있었다. 유씨와 주변 인물에 대한 정보를 제때 공유하지 않아 경찰은 검거 작전에도 애를 먹었다. 한 경찰 간부는 “검찰이 밑도 끝도 없이 ‘○○지역에 유병언의 장남이 은신해 있다’고만 통보했다”며 “정보가 부족해 제대로 된 수색작업을 할 수 없었다”고 했다. 수많은 경찰관과 군까지 동원했지만 소득이 없었던 것도 이 때문이라는 것이다.
경찰도 크게 다를 바 없었다. 순천의 매실 밭에서 시신을 발견하고도 유씨가 아닐 것으로 봤다. 명품 옷을 입은 유씨를 노숙자로 봤다. 그곳은 유씨가 은신했던 곳에서 직선거리로 2.5㎞ 정도 떨어진 곳이다. 유명 브랜드의 옷차림이나 소지품만 꼼꼼히 살폈어도 노숙자로 보기는 힘들었다. 경찰도 스스로 초동 수사의 허점을 인정했다.
세월호 참사는 수사기관에 대한 국민의 불신을 낳았다. 해경의 구조 과정에서부터 총체적인 부실이 노출됐다. 그런 가운데 유씨를 둘러싼 검찰ㆍ경찰의 부실 수사가 도마 위에 올랐다. 검ㆍ경의 신뢰 위기는 국민에게도 손해다. 검경이 신뢰를 회복하는 방법은 있다. 유씨 일가의 비리를 철저히 수사해 국민이 납득할 만한 결과를 내놓는 것이다.
홍권삼 사회부문 기자
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