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Hunt on for South Korea`s most wanted fugitive ferry owner

Last Updated: Wednesday, June 11, 2014 - 17:19

Zee Media Bureau

Seoul: Three aides of the missing owner of the ill-fated ferry Sewol, who is now the most wanted fugitive in the country, were on Wednesday nabbed by South Korean police on suspicion of helping the billionaire escape, said reports.

Thousands of cops armed with court-issued warrants against Yoo Byung-eun, conducted a massive manhunt in the sprawling religious compound belonging to the Evangelical Baptist Church in Anseong on Wednesday morning and arrested three church members on charges of helping the owner of ferry Sewol evade arrest, reported the Yonhap news agency.

The 73-year old billionaire Yoo Byung-eun is the owner of Chonghaejin Marine Co. the operator of the ferry Sewol that, in April, sank off the southwest coast with over 300 students onboard.

Yoo faces allegations of tax evasion, embezzlement and professional negligence. Prosecutors have said they suspect that the April 16 ferry sinking may have happened because Chonghaejin illicitly funneled profits to Yoo`s family, and so failed to spend enough money on safety and personnel. His son, Yoo Dae-gyun, faces embezzlement allegations.

South Korea has also offered a $50,000 reward for information about a mysterious missing billionaire who authorities say owns a ferry that sank last month, leaving more than 300 people dead or missing.

The disappearance of Yoo Byung-eun and his son has caused a media frenzy in South Korea. Yoo is a member of a church that critics call a cult and have linked to a 1987 mass suicide; church members deny involvement.

Yoo, 73, was thought to be holed up in a sprawling church compound near Seoul, and there was a tense, dayslong standoff between police and hundreds of church followers, some of whom reportedly threatened to die as martyrs.

Yoo is said to be the leader of the Evangelical Baptist Church, sometimes known as the Salvation Sect, and critics allege that church members call him "Moses." Church members deny that and say Yoo is just an ordinary member, although they acknowledge he has some influence because of his long affiliation with the church, which was founded by his father-in-law.

The church was in the news in 1987 when 32 people, then reportedly affiliated with a splinter group of the Salvation Sect, were found dead in the attic of a factory near Seoul in what authorities said was a collective murder-suicide pact. The deaths occurred as police investigated whether the splinter group`s leader swindled money from more than 200 people.

With Agency Inputs

First Published: Wednesday, June 11, 2014 - 10:06

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