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[Ferry Disaster] Prosecution pressures Yoo to turn himself in

Government will order ferry owner to pay back W403b in indemnity

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Published : 2014-06-26 21:10
Updated : 2014-06-26 21:30

Investigators are reportedly pressuring fugitive Yoo Byung-eun to give himself up to police by sending message from law enforcement to the de facto Sewol owner via his brother-in-law, Gabriel Oh.

According to investigative insiders, the Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office is making low-key contact with Gabriel Oh, a younger brother-in-law of Yoo, who served as the Korean Ambassador to the Czech Republic from 2010-2013.

Though the prosecution had brought in Oh and his wife for colluding with Yoo in business irregularities, it dropped its earlier position of taking him into custody by asking the court to issue arrest warrants.

Prosecutors’ release of Oh and his wife came as they allegedly expressed willingness to actively cooperate with the investigation by persuading the 73-year-old runaway to turn himself in, some insiders noted.

While Yoo is saddled with a variety of misconducts while owning Chonghaejin Marine Co., the operator of the Sewol, the prosecution has been striving to locate the fugitive’s whereabouts for about two months.

The prosecution is pinning hopes on Oh’s role as a proxy or mediator in terms of either arresting Yoo or getting him to surrender.

The government said Thursday that it would call on Yoo and his family to pay back 403 billion won ($395 million) as part of its right to demand indemnity for the victims and tragic accident.

Meanwhile, prosecutors are set to ask the Incheon District Court to issue an arrest warrant for Yoo’s close confidant, Lee Suk-hwan, who is a leader at Geumsuwon, a compound of the Salvation Sect which is reportedly led by Yoo.

The 63-year-old aide has been known as the figure who masterminded illegal cross-funding among units of Chonghaejin Marine Co.

Investigators also have not ruled out the possibility that some remarks by Yoo’s aides could have been a behind-the-scenes tactic to spread false information on the whereabouts of Yoo and his eldest son Dae-gyun, both of whom are on the nationwide wanted list.

One day after the April 16 ferry disaster, Yoo allegedly instructed some hundred devotees of the Salvation Sect to take countermeasures against the government’s stern position against the sect by delivering them emergency messages through social networking services, according to a TV news provider.

Yoo’s SNS message to followers was contradictory to his remarks that he would closely coordinate with prosecutors over their investigation into the ferry sinking.

Investigators have also raised the possibility that internal information on the search for the fugitive might have been leaked.

A senior prosecutor in charge of the team was quoted by an online news provider as saying, “There is a suspicion that former (Semo Group) chairman Yoo’s hurried escape ― as brutal criminals do ― could have been conducted as soon as his followers were informed of the direction of the prosecution’s investigation.”

The No. 3 figure at the Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office also alleged that someone in a high position, possibly outside of the Salvation Sect, may have systematically facilitated his getaway.

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

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