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Arrest warrants issued for two ship inspectors

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Published : 2014-06-03 21:17
Updated : 2014-06-03 21:17

The Gwangju District Court on Tuesday issued arrest warrants for a senior vessel safety operator of the Korea Shipping Association’s Incheon unit and a vessel inspector of the Korean Register of Shipping’s Mokpo unit.

The two suspects ― a 51-year-old vessel safety operator surnamed Kim and a vessel inspector surnamed Jeon ― allegedly approved the operation of the Sewol ferry and issued a safety certificate without verifying the authenticity of the “forged” report submitted by Chonghaejin Marine Co., the operator of the sunken ferry.

The court cited “the seriousness of the (alleged) crime and the possibility of the suspects’ flight” as the reason for its endorsement of the warrant issuance, requested by the prosecution.

Investigators are striving to arrest a female follower of Yoo Byung-eun, the de facto owner of the ill-fated ferry Sewol, as the woman in her late 50s, surnamed Kim, is suspected of masterminding the 73-year-old business tycoon’s getaway.

She is known to be a close confidant of Yoo and is called “mother Kim” by devotees of the Salvation Sect, which is allegedly led by Yoo. After Yoo’s key aide Lee Jae-ok, a medical professor, was arrested by police for reportedly providing the business irregularity-saddled Yoo with hideouts, the female follower allegedly organized systematic support from the sect for the fugitive.

Later in the day, the Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office said that Yoo has sought political asylum in a third country.

“But the foreign embassy in Korea rejected former (Semo Group) chairman Yoo’s refugee proposal as he failed to meet the requirements,” said the prosecution. “The embassy noted that the country does not provide asylum for a criminal suspect.”

While the prosecution declined to name the targeted country, citing diplomatic matters, some observers alleged that it could be France or the Czech Republic. They point to Yoo’s eldest brother-in-law, who served as the Korean ambassador to the Czech Republic.

The former ambassador to the Eastern European country, surnamed Oh, had reportedly played a significant role in garnering local support for an exhibition of Yoo’s photo works in France.

Yoo and his family have been suspected of engaging in irregularities worth 100 billion won ($97.7 million), including embezzlement of company funds, evading taxes and breach of trust.

The prosecution is scrutinizing the circumstances surrounding his application for refugee status and plans to summon figures who have contacted the foreign embassy in Korea.

The investigative agency also asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to inform embassies in Korea of Yoo’s misconduct and his attempts to gain refugee status.

The prosecution has yet to determine the whereabouts of Yoo and his oldest son Dae-gyun despite a series of raids in cities including Suncheon, Boseong and Jeonju in the Jeolla provinces.

The prosecution is expected to once again raid Geumsuwon, Yoo and his followers’ religious compound located in Anseong, Gyeonggi Province.

By Kim Yon-se (kys@heraldcorp.com)

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