The South Korea Ferry Owner Suspected Of Cutting Corners Was Just Found Dead
A South Korean businessman who was a leading suspect in the South Korea ferry disaster, Yoo Byung-eun, has been found dead, ending a nearly three-month-long manhunt that marked one of the largest searches in the nation's history. Yoo Byung-eun, 73, was the owner and top manager of Chonghaejin Marine Company, which operated the ill-fated MV Sewol ferry that capsized on April 16, killing 294 people. The company is accused of cutting profit margins, thus minimizing safety practices.
The April 16 disaster had placed a number of people associated with the ferry under scrutiny, including the ship's captain and members of his crew. Authorities believe Yoo's corruption, which includes embezzling money from the company for personal gains while ignoring safety practices and concerns, contributed to the sinking of the ferry. His children are also wanted for embezzling money from several companies the family controls.
A just-released report from South Korea's Audit and Inspection Board concluded that the ferry placed profit over safety, overloading the ship with cargo to generate more revenue. At the time of the capsizing, the Sewol was carrying double the amount of authorized cargo, the report found. Investigators placed much of the blame on the company, as well as the Maritime Ministry and the Korea Shipping Association, for disobeying these safety regulations.
According to The New York Times, a South Korean court issued an arrest warrant for Yoo in May, charging him with embezzlement, tax evasion and breach of trust. However, Yoo was able to evade arrest, despite surveillance cameras picking up his image at bus and train stations across South Korea. Until confirmation of his death on Tuesday, authorities believed the businessman was still alive.
Yoo's body was reportedly found on June 12 in a field in Suncheon, a southern South Korea city about 190 miles from Seoul. The authorities said the body was badly decomposed, so it had to be identified through DNA and fingerprint testing. The body was eventually identified after the DNA linked Yoo to his elder brother.
Yoo was under suspicion of South Korean authorities shortly after the deadly sinking, which sparked outrage among a still-grieving nation. His home was searched by authorities on April 23 as part of a probe into "overall corruption in management," prosecutor Kim Hoe-Jong said at the time. Authorities also raided the home of Yoo's son. In June, police searched a branch of a church in Anseong that Yoo founded.
Yoo disappeared not long after the sinking. His son, Yoo Dae-Kyun, remains on the run, while his daughter is currently in France, fighting extradition charges, according to the BBC. South Korean authorities are offering a $100 million reward out for the capture and return of Yoo's son.
The trial of the captain and crew of the ill-fated Sewol began in June. The captain and three senior crew members are being charged with negligent homicide, which may come with the death sentence. The other crew members face lesser negligent charges. The captain and his crew have received much criticism from the nation for abandoning the ferry before helping the passengers trapped below deck. A video released shortly after the disaster by the South Korea Coast Guard showed the captain climbing into a life boat as the ferry slowly tips on its side.
High school students who survived the sinking provided recorded testimony to the court. A majority of the passengers that day were high school students, most of whom are among the dead.