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Reward offered for missing South Korea ferry owner

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 23, 2014 at 7:53 am •  Published: May 23, 2014
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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea is offering 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.

But Yoo wasn't there when church members on Wednesday finally opened the compound to authorities, and some speculated that he may have fled to the home of a church follower. Prosecutors and police then announced a 50 million won ($50,000) reward for information about Yoo's location, and 30 million won ($30,000) for details about his eldest son.

Yoo, head of the now-defunct predecessor of the ferry's current operator, Chonghaejin, allegedly still controls the company through a complex web of holding companies in which his children and close associates are large shareholders. Senior prosecutor Kim Hoe-jong said authorities believe Yoo is the chairman of Chonghaejin.

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.

Chonghaejin's official leader, CEO Kim Han-sik, and four other employees have already been arrested. Officials suspect improper stowage and overloading of cargo may have contributed to the disaster.

Officers at the National Police Agency said Friday that they have begun a massive manhunt to capture Yoo.

A special team of about 150 veteran detectives and police officers has been established. Tens of thousands of posters with photos of Yoo and his son and information about the rewards have been plastered on bus terminals, train stations and other public places, agency officials said. Officers who capture Yoo or his son will be promoted by one rank.

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