Posted : 2014-05-22 16:21 Updated : 2014-05-22 19:11
Arrest warrant issued for Yoo
By Lee Hyo-sik
The court issued an arrest warrant Thursday for Yoo Byung-eun, the de-facto owner of the sunken ferry Sewol, prompting investigators to launch a nationwide manhunt for Korea's most-wanted fugitive.
The prosecution said it will offer a 50 million won reward for anyone who provides tips leading to Yoo's arrest. Those who help apprehend Dae-gyun, Yoo's eldest son, will be given 30 million won. Officers who apprehend the fugitives will be promoted a rank.
The Incheon District Court issued the arrest warrant after reviewing documents submitted by the prosecution, saying it is feared that Yoo, 73, may flee the country and destroy evidence. Chonghaejin Marine, the operator of the ferry Sewol, is owned by Yoo through his children.
The court normally questions suspects before issuing arrest warrants, but this time it issued the document after only examining the prosecution's evidence because Yoo did not appear for questioning Tuesday. He also defied a prosecution summons on May 16.
''Under the given circumstances, Yoo has gone into hiding and it is feared he will destroy evidence,'' the court said after issuing the warrant. He is charged with embezzlement, breach of trust and tax evasion.
Normally, an arrest warrant is valid for seven days, but Yoo's will be good for a month, through July 22, as he is deliberately evading the investigation, the court explained.
The prosecution asked for warrant late Wednesday after failing to find Yoo at Geumsuwon, the stronghold of the Salvation Sect he leads, earlier in the day. On April 13, the court issued an arrest warrant for his eldest son Dae-gyun.
With a search-and-seizure warrant, about 80 investigators from the Incheon District Prosecutors' Office raided Geumsuwon in Anseong, Gyeonggi Province, to take Yoo and his son into custody. The raid lasted eight hours as investigators searched the 760,000 square-meter compound. But they left without the two suspects.
Investigators suspect that Yoo escaped Geumsuwon days before the raid, and he is believed to be hiding in the home of one of the Salvation Sect followers.
In the meantime, the religious cult was found to have put collateral security on real estate owned by a Semo Group affiliate, right after the ferry Sewol sank off the nation's southwestern coast on April 16.
The move is aimed at preventing the prosecution from seizing Yoo's property. The group paid collateral on 24 buildings and areas of land, totaling 27 billion won.
Early this week, the government announced a plan to compensate Sewol victims in advance with taxpayers' money and collect this later from Yoo and others responsible for the sunken ferry.