Thursday, June 12, 2014

South Korea: Who Wants to Make US$500,000?

According to Reuters, South Korea's biggest and most bizarre manhunt, linked to a ferry disaster in which hundreds drowned, has come full circle at the compound of a sect known for its organic ice cream as police on Thursday (June 12) used earth movers to search for tunnels.

Police have raided the grounds of the Evangelical Baptist Church in Anseong, a two-hour drive south of Seoul, twice as they try to flush out church co-founder, Yoo Byung-un, 73, South Korea's most wanted man since the "Sewol" ferry sank in April killing more than 300 people, mostly high school students from the same school.

Thus far, Yoo, a businessman and photographer who was once jailed for fraud, has eluded capture in a case which has become an embarrassment for authorities already under pressure for their botched handling of the disaster.

Yoo is wanted on charges of embezzlement, negligence and tax evasion stemming from a web of business holdings centered on I-One-I, an investment vehicle owned by his sons that ran the shipping company, Chonghaejin Marine.

Chonghaejin owned the "Sewol" which sank off the southwest coast on April 16 on a routine journey from Incheon on the mainland to the southern holiday island of Jeju.

COMMENT: Of the 476 passengers and crew on board, 339 were children and teachers from the same school. Only 172 people were rescued and the remainder are all presumed to have drowned.

The man-hunt for Yoo, who once held a photographic exhibition at the Louvre in Paris, has sent authorities chasing leads from the sect compound to remote towns in southwestern Jeolla province and back again to his compound.

The latest raid began on Wednesday (June 11) and involved 6,000 police and investigators.

Police said they believe Yoo and one son are still in South Korea. Another son is based in the United States and his whereabouts could not be established by REUTERS.

Yoo's daughter, Yoo Som-Na, has been held in France since May 28 after INTERPOL called for her arrest "for fraud and embezzlement."  She was denied bail on Wednesday.

Fifteen members of the ferry's crew are on trial on charges ranging from homicide to negligence after they were caught on video abandoning ship as the students and adults "stood-fast" in their cabins as ordered.