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Reward for S. Korea ferry owner upped to $500,000

Boats and cranes surround the site of the submerged 'Sewol' ferry off the coast of Jindo, on April 21, 2014/AFP

Boats and cranes surround the site of the submerged ‘Sewol’ ferry off the coast of Jindo, on April 21, 2014/AFP

SEOUL, May 26 – Under-pressure South Korean prosecutors on Monday upped to $500,000 (Sh43mn) a cash reward for information leading to the arrest of a fugitive businessman in connection with last month’s ferry disaster.

The new sum was a 10-fold increase from the 50 million won (Sh4.3mn) originally offered last Thursday for Yoo Byung-Eun, patriarch of the family that owns Chonghaejin Marine Co.

Chonghaejin was the owner and operator of the 6,825-tonne ferry, Sewol, which capsized and sank on April 16 with the loss of around 300 lives – most of them schoolchildren.

Yoo is wanted for questioning on possible charges of embezzlement and criminal negligence, as prosecutors investigate the extent to which the Sewol disaster was caused by a lack of safety standards and regulatory violations.

“We hope the bigger cash reward will lead to his quick arrest,” senior prosecutor Kim Hoe-Jong told AFP.

Yoo has no direct stake in Chonghaejin, but his children and close aides control it through a complex web of holding companies.

His current whereabouts are unknown and a warrant was issued for his arrest after he failed to comply with a prosecutors’ summons earlier this month.

Five Chonghaejin officials have already been arrested and a lesser reward of 100 million won has been offered for Yoo’s eldest son, Yoo Dae-Gyun.

On Thursday, investigators raided a compound belonging to the Evangelical Baptist Church of Korea, of which Yoo is a leading member, but failed to find him.

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Yoo has described himself as an artist and photographer and was once convicted of fraud when a company under his control went bankrupt.

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