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Former follower alleges ferry owner’s successful getaway

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

A former follower of fugitive Yoo Byung-eun alleged on Tuesday that the owner of the sunken ferry Sewol has already been smuggled abroad.

Chung Dong-seob, who identified himself as an ex-devotee of the Salvation Sect that is reportedly led by Yoo, said in an interview with a TV news channel that he assumes the wanted business tycoon is not in the nation.

“Yoo Byung-eun appears to be staying in a foreign country via his (low-key) contacts with foreign brokers,” he said, downplaying the possibility that he was smuggled out by the sect’s followers.

Describing Yoo as a person with a persecution complex, Chung said he believes that the runaway does not trust any devotee of the sect.

Chung added that China might not be Yoo’s destination, hinting that the fugitive selected an unexpected country as his hideout.

In addition, he alleged that Yoo’s oldest son, Dae-gyun, is still residing in Korea. “I’ve heard (from some informants) that Yoo Dae-gyun is hiding with a daughter of Yoo’s female confidant (Shin Myung-hee) in the southern part of the country.”

Chung, however, declined to publicize the speculated region. He issued the possibility that further remarks could hamper law enforcement agencies’ investigation.

Meanwhile, a crew member of the ill-fated Sewol admitted in a court hearing Tuesday that he abandoned passengers and escaped the ship that went down off the country’s southwest coast in mid-April, claiming nearly 300 lives.

The first engineer, surnamed Sohn, was one of the four crew members who were arraigned on charges of abandonment and violation of a ship safety act during a second hearing held at a district court in the southern city of Gwangju. The three others denied the charges against them.

The arraignments for captain Lee Joon-seok and 10 other crew members were held at the same court a week ago, where they all denied the charges against them.

The 69-year-old skipper and three crew members have been charged with homicide by willful negligence. If convicted, they could face the death penalty. The other 11 crew members have been indicted on charges of abandonment and violating a ship safety act.

“(Sohn) will not make an excuse by saying that he could not rescue passengers as the ship sharply tilted to one side quickly,” Sohn’s attorney said during the hearing.

The lawyer asked the court for mercy, citing Sohn‘s poor health and that he attempted to kill himself during the investigation.

Prosecutors allege that the sailors left the ship as it was sinking while telling passengers, mostly high school students on a school excursion, to stay inside their cabins. The sailors were among the first to be rescued by Coast Guard personnel sent to the accident site.

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

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