Two Yoo aides turn themselves in

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Two Yoo aides turn themselves in

Two female aides of a deceased sunken ferry’s owner turned themselves in yesterday, raising expectations that their testimonies would help shed light on the unexpected death of Yoo Byung-eun, the 73-year-old patriarch behind the family that operated the sunken Sewol ferry.

The two accomplices, Kim Myung-sook, 59, and Yoo Hee-ja, 52, voluntarily appeared together at the Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office around 8:30 a.m. Authorities had been pursuing them for aiding in the patriarch’s escape.

The women arrived at the prosecutors’ office three days after authorities’ issued a declaration stating that they would not detain the fugitive aides if they turned themselves in to the prosecution by the end of the month. Kim said the two decided to hand themselves over because of the announcement.

Kim is believed to be a leading adherent in the Evangelical Baptist Church, a religious sect led and co-founded by the deceased Yoo, while the 52-year-old Yoo Hee-ja was better known as the wife of Byung-eun’s chauffeur Yang Hoe-jeong, who is believed to have been with the 73-year-old businessman during his final days hiding out in the villa in Suncheon, South Jeolla.

Suncheon is where Byung-eun’s body was first found. Police recovered the corpse on June 12 in a plum orchard 2.5 miles away (1.6 miles) from the private residence where police believe Yoo stayed until May 25. But they belatedly identified the corpse as Yoo last week - 40 days after the initial discovery.

With the driver still on the run, his wife and Kim testified to prosecutors that they didn’t have any knowledge about Yang’s whereabouts.

Kim admitted, however, that she stayed in contact with Yang until May 25 and shared information about the progress of the investigation into the ferry disaster.

The arrested pair said that they left Geumsuwon, the religious compound of the Evangelical Baptist Church in Anseong, Gyeonggi, on May 27, and then moved from one place to another in Seoul and Gyeonggi. The two stayed in Gongneung, northern Seoul, prior to their surrender.

While Yoo Hee-ja’s role in Yoo’s escape is still unclear, the prosecution alleges that Kim played a key role in securing food and looking for shelter for the elderly businessman.

Kim previously ran a restaurant near the religious retreat, which strictly prohibits outsiders from entering. When large religious events were held, she often offered food to followers.

The prosecution maintained that they would question the two women, though they would not be detained.

“If there are no additional charges for the two, we will not detain them,” a prosecutor with the Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office said.

Meanwhile, judicial proceedings for Yoo’s eldest son, Yoo Dae-gyun, and his son’s aides are under way. They were apprehended by police on Friday. The Incheon District Court yesterday issued arrest warrants soughts for the three.

Yoo Dae-gyun is charged with illegally pocketing 9.9 billion won ($9.64 million) by charging bogus consultation fees to affiliates operated by his family.

The junior Yoo is a major shareholder of I-One-I Holdings, a holding company of the Chonghaejin Marine Company, the beleaguered operator of the Sewol ferry, as well as affiliates Dapanda and Trigon Korea.

He denied those allegations during questioning. However, the money acquired illegally by Yoo Dae-gyun is far less than the sums taken by his deceased father Yoo Byung-eun (129.1 billion won), his younger brother Yoo Hyeok-gi (55.9 billion won) and his sister Yoo Seom-na (49.2 billion won).

Hyeok-gi is still at large and believed to be in the United States.

BY PARK EUN-JEE [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]





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