South Korean police raid church compound in search of Sewol ferry owner

Arirang News video screenshot
Yoo Byung-eun

South Korean police raided the Evangelical Baptist Church Wednesday in search of 73-year-old businessman Yoo Byung-eun.

Authorities believe Yoo owns Chonghaejin, a company that operates the ferry on which over 300 people died nearly two months ago.

Police believe Yoo is or was hiding out at the church's compound in Anseong, and sent about 5,000 officers to the site. Five church members were arrested for aiding Yoo or interfering with the raid. The church hung a sign outside their compound that read: "We'll protect Yoo Byung-eun even if 100,000 church members are all arrested," according to the Associated Press.

On April 16, Chonghaejin's Sewol ferry capsized on its way to Jeju from Seoul with 476 people on board. Only 172 passengers and crew survived the disaster.

Prosecutors held the senior crew members primarily responsible for the deaths of 292 passengers and crew, and the presumed deaths of 12 unrecovered persons. While 339 students and teachers from Seol's Ansan Danwon High School were told to stay in their cabins, crew members were caught on videotape leaving the ferry. Captain Lee Joon-seok, the chief engineer, and the first and second mates have been charged with murder, and could face the death penalty for their crime.11 other crew members were charged with negligence for their actions during the sinking.

Investigators also found that the vessel was overloaded and the ballast tank—which maintains a floating structure's center of gravity—was inadequately filled. Three people were arrested for improper handling of the Sewol's cargo, and one executive was arrested for improper financial dealings with Chonghaejin.

A bounty of $100,000 has been offered for the capture of Yoo's eldest son, and the Associated Press reports that one of Yoo's daughters was recently arrested in France.

It is not yet clear if Yoo escaped before the raid or is in hiding on the church's compound.

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