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.

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