Information on the whereabouts of the man at the head of a family-owned business responsible for the Sewol ferry that sank in April, killing 288 people, will now net an informer $500,000 from the South Korean government. Yoo Byung-eun and his son, Yoo Dae-gyun, have been fugitives since investigations into their company began.
The South Korean government increased the reward for information on the whereabouts of the owner of Cheonghaejin Marine Co. from $50,000 to $500,000 today, as leads have dried up over time since the ferry disaster occurred. They also increased the reward for information on finding Yoo’s son, Yoo Dae-gyun, from $29,310 to $97,700 (30 million won to 100 million won). The announcement from South Korean law enforcement also included several digitally altered photos to help potential tipsters imagine what the two men may look like under disguise.
While Yoo Byung-eun dismissed any claims that he had control of the company in a statement when the ferry sank, and he has since gone missing, despite police desire to question him. The elder Yoo does not have a stake in the company, but it is controlled through majority shares by his sons, and it is believed that he is involved in the operation of the company.
South Korean President Park Geun-Hye described the Yoo family as the “root cause” of the tragedy in statements this week and described their evasion of law enforcement as an “absolutely unpardonable criminal act.” President Park has previously apologized for what she described as the government’s “insufficient” actions to save those on board and punish the responsible parties. She has also called for a “fundamental reform of the safety system” to address the failings that led to the sinking of the ferry.
Law enforcement authorities explained that Yoo is wanted not only for questioning regarding the Sewol ferry disaster but also potential charges of embezzlement and criminal negligence. “We hope the bigger cash reward will lead to his quick arrest,” senior prosecutor Kim Hoe-Jong told the Agence France-Presse.
The increased reward follows a raid on a church on Seoul that did not result in finding Yoo. 1,500 riot police entered the Evangelist Baptist Church compound in Anseong suspecting that Yoo was hiding among attendees there, as he had previously been a pastor, but did not find him. Church officials had insisted they did not know of his whereabouts and that Yoo had not been a member of their congregation for some time.