Investigators have shifted their manhunt focus to two key close confidantes -- Kim Hea-kyung and Yang Hoi-jeong -- of the late business tycoon Yoo Byung-eun, hoping to determine the cause of the Sewol ferry owner’s death amid a power struggle among his followers.
|Kim Hea-kyung (left), a core member of the Salvation Sect|
Kim Hea-kyung, a former female aide of the deceased Yoo and the head of Hankook Pharma, fled to a foreign country immediately after the April 16 vessel sinking disaster without responding to summons from the prosecution.
She allegedly had an affair with Yoo Byung-eun, while Kwon Yoon-ja is the legal widow of Yoo, who died at age 73. There are speculations that two children of Kim and Yoo reside in the United States.
Kwon, 72, who was taken into custody on charges of embezzlement, had four children with Yoo: Seom-na, Sang-na, Dae-kyoon and Hyuk-kee, all of them are in their 40s.
Kim, the 52-year-old Hankook Pharma chief, has reportedly held an influential stake in several major units of Chonghaejin Marine Co., the operator of the sunken ferry Sewol. Investigators estimate that Kim’s wealth, including her shares and properties in Gyeonggi Province, is worth at least 10 billion won ($9.8 million).
Observers raised the possibility that there could be a tough power struggle after the April 16 accident among key devotees of the Salvation Sect, which was led by the late Yoo and closely linked with Chonghaejin Marine.
Yoo’s regular chauffeur Yang Hoi-jeong is believed to be in South Korea as he allegedly sheltered Yoo before his death, according to investigators. But the prosecution and police have yet to determine his whereabouts.
Pundits shared the view that chauffeur Yang may hold the key to revealing the exact cause of the late Sewol owner’s death.
On Monday, Yang Hoi-jeong’s wife Yoo Hee-ja, 52, and Yoo’s former female aide Kim Myung-sook, 59, turned themselves in to law enforcement authorities.
Kim Myung-sook, who allegedly masterminded Yoo’s runaway in April and May as one of his close followers, is a key leader of the Salvation Sect.
Sources alleged that Kim’s husband had served with the Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office as a senior prosecutor, which has led to rumors that investigators’ intelligence over the Sewol probe may have been leaked. He is reportedly working at a law firm.
Later in the day, an Incheon court on Monday issued arrest warrants for Yoo Dae-kyoon, the oldest son of the late billionaire Yoo Byung-eun, and Park Soo-kyung, a female aide of Dae-kyoon.
The Incheon District Court held the warrant hearing to review documents proposed by the prosecution and approved the issuance, citing fears that the junior Yoo, 44, and Park, 34, may flee or destroy evidence.
The court also endorsed the warrant for Dae-kyoon's another female aide Ha Bo-eun, 35, for concealing the two suspects.
Dae-kyoon has been suspected of the embezzling funds worth 9.9 billion won from Chonghaejin Marine and its subsidiaries.
Park has been under probe for providing Yoo with hideouts after the April 16 ferry disaster.
The junior Yoo and Park was captured by police at Ha Bo-eun’s residence in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province, last Friday.
Park’s mother Shin Myung-hee, 64, gave herself up to the prosecution on June 13 ― the day after the senior Yoo’s body was discovered at a farm in Suncheon, South Jeolla Province.
By Kim Yon-se (firstname.lastname@example.org