A group of investigators dispatched by the prosecution forced their way into Geumsuwon, a religious compound in Anseong, Gyeonggi Province, in a bid to arrest the de facto owner of the sunken ferry Sewol at around 12:10 p.m. on Wednesday.
The compound is owned by the Salvation Sect, which is allegedly led by former Semo Group chief Yoo Byung-eon, who is suspected of engaging a variety of misconducts since late 1990s when his group allegedly intentionally declared insolvency for a dubious purpose.
Yoo is suspected of hiding out in the compound, which is being protected by sect members, though he is rumored to have already fled to a follower’s residence.
Investigators had failed to find him in Geumsuwon as of 6 p.m. on the day. “Though the search is underway, backed by active coordination from the Geumsuwon staff, we have yet to be informed of any report over his whereabouts,” said a prosecutor.
|Cars dispatched by the prosecution to arrest Yoo Byung-eon, the de facto owner of the sunken ferry Sewol, enter Geumsuwon in Anseong, Gyeonggi Province, Wednesday. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)|
The prosecution has only seized records of a closed-circuit television inside a farming cooperative, a location known as Yoo’s furtive retreat, around the compound.
In a break from the strong resistance they had been putting up, hundreds of Yoo’s followers stood aside to let about 70 investigators’ entry into Geumsuwon.
Earlier in the day, spokespeople for Geumsuwon expressed their willingness to cooperate with prosecutors over the investigation.
Yoo’s followers, however, clarified that they would cooperate only if the authorities pave the way for the 73-year-old business tycoon and his followers to recover their “tarnished reputation.”
They argued that “the Odaeyang incident was declared to be of no connection to the Salvation Sect,” though the ex-chief of the now-defunct Semo Group was previously a member of the religious cult, dubbed Odaeyang.
Yoo was a suspect in the cult’s 1987 mass suicide-murder. More than 30 people from the entity were found dead, bound and gagged at a plant in a satellite city near Seoul.
The prosecution, which has not refuted the followers’ argument, stressed religious matters are not relevant to the ongoing investigation. It made it clear that the probe is focused on revealing improprieties of Yoo and Chonghaejin Marine Co, the operator of ferry Sewol.
About 1,000 riot policemen were deployed around Geumsuwon in preparation for the raid and possible emergency situation.
Investigators are also targeting Yoo’s oldest son, Dae-gyun, for arrest, as he is suspected of committing a variety of irregularities during his management of some affiliates of Chonghaejin Marine Co., the operator of the ill-fated Sewol.
Yoo Dae-kyun has been put on the most-wanted list for disobeying prosecutors’ summons.
In addition, the prosecution has sought arrest warrants for Yoo’s second son Hyuk-gi and oldest daughter Som-na. Both of them, who are reportedly staying abroad, have also repeatedly refused to respond to summons.
Among key allegations surrounding Yoo and his children are embezzlement of corporate funds, illicit money transfers to foreign countries and tax evasion.
A regulatory official at the Financial Supervisory Service said Chonghaejin Marine was estimated to have enjoyed tax exemptions over the past five years, during which time it offset losses with a portion of its earnings.
He said that FSS inspectors would seek to verify whether the practice was legitimate, and whether the company’s bookkeeping was in keeping with accounting rules.
Affiliates or subsidiaries of the marine company included Chonhaiji, Dapanda and Moonjin Media. Their properties across the country amounted to 1 square kilometer and the real estate holdings comprised more than 30 percent of the Chonghaejin Marine’s total assets.
There are speculations that Semo Group had cozy relations with former President Chun Doo-hwan, who took power in a coup in 1979.
By Kim Yon-se (firstname.lastname@example.org)