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As predicted by prosecutors, Yoo Byeong-eon went into hiding

As predicted by prosecutors, Yoo Byeong-eon went into hiding

Updated May. 22, 2014 07:54

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Prosecutors entered Geumsoowon in Anseong City, Gyeonggi Province on Wednesday, more than one month after it started investigating the family of Yoo Byeong-eon, former chairman of Semo Group, but failed to find Yoo and his eldest son Dae-gyun. Yoo is suspected as de facto owner of Cheonghaejin Marine, which owns the doomed ferry Sewol.

○ Searching ‘empty house’ one month after launching probe

The special investigation team from the Incheon District Public Prosecutors’ Office sent in more than 70 investigators who elbowed through believers of the Guwon-pa religious sect, who opened the main gate to Geumsoowon at around 12 noon on the day, and implemented summons for Yoo and arrest warrant for his eldest son, Dae-gyun. The investigators searched every corner of Geumsoowon spanning 460,000 sq. meters, but concluded that Yoo had already left the religious facility . More than 500-strong mobile police squad, who were on standby around areas from 7 a.m., formed two layers of barricade outside Geumsoowon to block outsiders from entering the facility, and monitored people leaving from there.

Prosecutors said they implemented the summons and arrest warrant even after stating on Tuesday that ‘they figured out former chairman Yoo had left Geumsoowon already,’ because they sought to clearly confirm whether the Yoo family had run away, and to secure clue needed to trace them down.”

However, prosecutors inevitably face criticism that “While delaying entry into Geumsoowon, they might have given the Yoo family time to escape.” A prosecution source said, “Preventing a mishap (resulting from physical conflict)” was also as important as their arrest,” adding, “We are receiving reports (related to the whereabouts of the Yoo family) from across the nation, and we have mobilized diverse channels.” The Incheon District Public Prosecutors’ Office plans to trace the whereabouts of the Yoo family by sharing information with prosecutors’ offices nationwide.

○ Sect vows “to make way for prosecutors like the Miracle of Moses”

After asking prosecutors “to officially confirm that the Evangelical Baptist Church (heathen Salvation sect or Guwon-pa) has nothing to do with mass suicides at Odaeyang’s handcraft factory in Anseong in 1987” on Tuesday, its believers continued to warn that “We will block prosecutors’ entry by risking our lives” through 8 a.m. on Wednesday. But its believers changed stance right before prosecutors’ planned raid. Lee Tae-jong, an ad hoc spokesman of the religious sect, held a press conference around 11 a.m. and said, “We received confirmation in an official letter that we had wanted from prosecutors,” adding, “We will wrap up our struggle, which we staged despite misunderstanding that we are ‘human shields’ for former chairman Yoo, and cooperate with prosecutorial investigation.”

Some believers protested the spokesman’s statement, saying “Who allowed you to make such decision,” but they soon agreed that “We make way like the Miracle of Moses when prosecutors’ vehicles enter the facility.” On this move, some critics say that although believers of the sect seemed as if they were cooperating in prosecutorial search because they had their demands met, in realty they might have ended protest only after earning time to allow Yoo to escape from Geumsoowon.

Meanwhile, the facility also saw a string of protest visits by ordinary citizens who have strong anger against the Yoo family. At around 6 a.m., Choo, 49, who was under influence, beat with his fist and cursed Lee, a 52-year-old believer of the sect who tried to block the former, before being booked by police for the charge of using violence. Around 12 noon, two members of the conservative group Patriotic Movement Alliance staged a protest rally with a banner reading, “Thoroughly investigate the Yoo family,” but were blocked from entering by police who were surrounding Geumsoowon.