When Yoo’s villa was searched, he was insideAuthorities yesterday recovered about 1 billion won ($976,000) from a vacation villa owned by the patriarch of the family behind the Sewol ferry tragedy that they had searched top to bottom for two hours in May.
And according to testimony from the private secretary of Yoo Byung-eun, the 73-year-old de facto owner of the doomed ferry and the company that operated it, Yoo was in a hiding place on the second floor of the villa while it was being searched on the night of May 25.
Authorities announced on Tuesday that Yoo’s decomposed remains were discovered by a farmer in Suncheon, South Jeolla, on June 12 in a plum orchard just 2.5 kilometers (1.6 miles) from the villa. The remains weren’t identified until late Monday, 40 days later.
The money, found in two suitcases, was in Korean and U.S. banknotes: 830 million won plus $160,000. The investigators found the suitcases in a hiding place on the villa’s second floor.
The 33-year-old secretary, surnamed Shin, allegedly helped Yoo evade arrest at the villa on May 25. She was arrested that day.
During questioning on May 26, Shin allegedly said that she told Yoo to conceal himself in the hiding place on the second floor. The hiding place, she said, measured 9.9 square meters (11.8 square yards) and had a wall made of logs to conceal its existence.
The Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office didn’t explain as of press time why Shin’s testimony was only disclosed yesterday.
With the discovery of Yoo’s demise, the focus of the criminal investigation has shifted to Yoo’s two elusive sons and other aides who were believed to have been with him in his last moments.
Police yesterday launched a fresh probe into at least nine aides who are suspected of helping Yoo’s eldest son evade investigation, following the Tuesday announcement that Yoo’s corpse was found in a plum orchard last month in Suncheon, South Jeolla, but was not identified for 40 days. The orchard was 2.5 kilometers away from the private villa Yoo owned and was presumed to have occupied in May following the Sewol sinking on April 16.
His eldest son, Yoo Dae-gyun, is now the most wanted man in Korea and manhunts to find him and his father have taken place in 60 places across the country.
Police are also hunting for the patriarch’s chauffeur, Yang Hoe-jeong, saying he should have been with Yoo in the Suncheon villa in May and early June and may hold the key to understanding Yoo’s unexplained death.
The results of a second autopsy on Yoo’s remains are expected to be announced today. The first medical examination concentrated on DNA sampling.
Also being pursued is a 59-year-old female aide to Yoo, Kim Myung-sook. As a leading adherent of the religious sect co-founded and led by Yoo, Kim was reportedly in charge of raising funds and ordering other adherents to provide refuges for Yoo’s escape. Yoo’s second son, Hyeok-gi, is assumed to be hiding in the United States.
A 34-year-old woman identified as Park Soo-kyung is believed to play a key role in protecting Yoo Dae-gyun and keeping him hidden. Park is also a follower of Yoo’s religious group, the Evangelical Baptist Church, or Salvation Sect. Park is a certified Taekwondo referee as well.
Investigators are keeping open the possibility that the oldest son may appear at his father’s funeral service and turn himself in.
The National Forensic Service said that some of Yoo’s relatives, including Yoo’s younger sister, contacted the agency to ask if they could view his dead body to make sure it was his.
The authorities have not ruled out the possibility that the son may have killed himself during his flight.
So far, both police and prosecutors have refrained from speculating on the exact cause of Yoo’s death.
“We will be able to get the test results on toxic chemicals by the morning of July 24,” said a police official who refused to be named.
Jeong Soon-do, the head of Jeonnam Provincial Police Agency, was relieved from his position yesterday, following the dismissal on Tuesday of Woo Hyung-ho, the chief of Suncheon Police Station.
BY PARK EUN-JEE, JANG HYEOK-JIN [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.