The government’s top legal official apologized on Wednesday to lawmakers during parliament’s interpellation session for failing to arrest Yoo Byung-eun, as the nation’s largest-ever manhunt continued without major breakthroughs since Monday’s arrest of a suspected Yoo follower.
Justice Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn acknowledged that law enforcement officials still didn’t know Yoo’s whereabouts.
“I will ensure that all available prosecutors and law enforcement officials are put into (capturing Yoo) so that operations are successfully concluded within the shortest amount of time,” Hwang said.
Interrogations by prosecutors of four recently arrested Yoo confidants also failed to produce meaningful results.
Police in the last six days arrested Yoo Byung-il, Yoo’s older brother, and three other female suspects alleged to have actively supported Yoo in his run. A suspect only identified by her surname Kim was most recently captured on Monday.
Lawmakers expressed disappointment.
“I think catching Yoo would be the absolute minimum prosecutors could do to console the families who lost their loved ones in the ferry accident,” Rep. Lee Jang-woo of the ruling Saenuri Party said during Wednesday’s interpellation session at the National Assembly.
“Prosecutors seem to be more focused on catching (Yoo) than identifying the exact reasons behind the Sewol’s sinking and punishing those responsible,” Rep. Kim Hyun of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy said.
Later in the day, parliament’s Sewol committee chief Rep. Shim Jae-cheol of the Saenuri Party told reporters that witness hearings of government officials potentially responsible for the Sewol disaster will be held next Monday “with or without” the opposition.
Ten minutes later, Rep. Kim Hyun-mee of the NPAD stormed down to the National Assembly’s press room and told reporters the opposition had never agreed to such a schedule.
“Rep. Shim never mentioned he would hold witness hearings next week during today’s meeting,” Rep. Kim said in apparent anger. “He has already lied once to the families, and I am not surprised he is pushing (the investigations) in such a rash way.”
The National Assembly’s Sewol committee has been struggling to kick off investigations for weeks, amid political bickering over the panel’s specific schedule.
Saenuri lawmakers have said the committee should hold witness hearings right away this month. Opposition legislators have said the panel should postpone hearings until lawmakers have made a thorough study of the accident.
The bereaved families of the Sewol victims meanwhile said in a press briefing earlier Wednesday that the hearings must be held off until the bodies of the 12 still missing are salvaged. They said next month would be a better time to invite witnesses.
There is suspicion among families and the media that the ruling and opposition parties are weighing the timing of the panel investigations because of the upcoming by-elections on July 30. The elections will decide which party takes the 14 vacant parliamentary seats and is an opportunity for the opposition to take the majority in parliament. The ruling party holds 148 seats.
By Jeong Hunny (firstname.lastname@example.org)