Cowardly Ferry Owner Must Face the Law

The eldest son of Yoo Byung-eon, the part-time cult leader who owns ferry operator Chonghaejin Marine, has gone into hiding after refusing to appear before prosecutors for questioning. Investigators went to the Yoo family home in southern Seoul on Tuesday carrying an arrest warrant, but Yoo Dae-gyun was not at home.

They then went to look for him at a compound run by the cult south of Seoul but were forced to beat a retreat when cult followers and staff of his companies blocked the entrance.

Seven other family members and close confidants of Yoo Byung-eon, including his other son and two daughters, have been placed on a wanted list after they refused to follow orders to return to Korea for questioning.

Prosecutors summoned them three times since late last month, but even people close to the Yoo family are saying they have no idea where they are.

Some 500 followers of Yoo's cult and staff of his companies rallied in front of the Supreme Public Prosecutors' Office in southern Seoul and at the retreat to prevent prosecutors from arresting them.

Yoo Byung-eon and his children in effect own majority stakes in Chonghaejin Marine and other affiliates and are directly and indirectly responsible for the sinking of the Sewol that killed hundreds of passengers, mostly teenagers. They must face their responsibilities.

Yoo Byung-eon was paid W15 milllion (US$1=W1,022) a month by Chonghaejin Marine for his abysmal management of the firm, yet he has not even shown his face since the tragedy, let alone apologizing to the families of the victims.

The Sewol sank because its operator failed to follow safety regulations and modified the vessel beyond its capacity in order to make more money from cargo. The Sewol's crew and staff of Chonghaejin Marine were busy trying to doctor the cargo data of the vessel even as the ship was sinking with hundreds of passengers trapped aboard.

Looking at the dubious way the company conducted business on a daily basis, it is no wonder that the captain and most of the crew were the first to abandon ship. The captain of Korea's largest ferry boat was a temp who was paid only W2.7 million a month.

Yoo Byung-eon, meanwhile, fancies himself as a nature photographer among his many dubious occupations and charged his companies tens of millions of won for photos he took and yet more exorbitant amounts for making up names for them. His children embezzled company funds and diverted the money to paper companies set up overseas. Now they are hiding in rabbit holes.

Many Koreans are getting frustrated by the failure of law enforcement to bring Yoo and his family to swift justice.

Perhaps their deranged behavior is guided by some kind of terror of religious persecution. But they have engaged in business and made a fortune under this country's law. They must now face the same law and take responsibility for causing hundreds of people to die at sea.

englishnews@chosun.com / May 14, 2014 13:34 KST