The fugitive owner of the sunken ferry Sewol recently attempted to seek asylum at a foreign embassy in Seoul, but was denied due to his status as a criminal suspect, prosecutors said Tuesday.
A massive manhunt has been under way for weeks for Yoo Byung-eun, who is wanted for a string of corruption charges and irregularities that are believed to have contributed to the April 16 sinking of the Sewol that claimed the lives of nearly 300 people, mostly high school students.
"An anonymous person recently sounded out a foreign embassy in Seoul for Yoo's political asylum," said Kim Hoe-jong, the head of the special investigation team at the Incheon District Prosecutors' Office.
"The embassy declined to offer an asylum to (Yoo) as he is a criminal suspect," Kim added, without discosing the name of the country.
Prosecutors suspect that Yoo -- a religious figure and ex-convict-- effectively owns Chonghaejin Marine Co., the ill-fated ferry's operator, through two of his sons and is responsible for the ship's allegedly lax safety practices.
Motivated by profit, the operator overloaded the ship with passengers and cargo even though its balance was substantially compromised after a remodeling.
As part of its efforts to arrest the owner family, the prosecution last month hiked the amount of the rewards for information leading to the arrests of Yoo and his eldest son, Dae-kyun, to 500 million won (US$488,158) and 100 million won, respectively. (Yonhap)