A woman in her 30s has been arrested on charges of helping Yoo Byung-eon, the de facto owner of ferry operator Chonghaejin Marine, evade capture.
The woman, identified by her surname Shin, is the sixth person to be arrested for aiding Yoo's flight. Prosecutors have vowed to arrest anyone who helps the fugitive.
The Incheon District Prosecutors' Office said Monday it arrested Shin on Sunday night. She had allegedly been holed up with Yoo until recently at a private house near Suncheon, South Jeolla Province.
Prosecutors declined to reveal the identity of the woman and her relationship with Yoo. A spokesman said, "We can't discuss details of the investigation and the matter involves privacy."
One follower of a cult led by Yoo said Shin is a U.S. citizen who helped him organize his photographic work. Prosecutors are questioning Shin to determine Yoo's escape route.
They believe Yoo is still hiding near Suncheon and are focusing their search in the region. Prosecution sources said he was probably unable to travel far from where Shin was arrested.
"If we fail to arrest him over the next one to two days, he could end up evading capture for some time," a prosecution official admitted. But he added the chances that Yoo fled the country by ship are slim given that ports have been tightly controlled for some time.
However, prosecutors are not ruling out that Yoo fled to another part of the country and are conducting simultaneous searches in multiple locations. They are keeping their eye on offices and agricultural co-ops in Gyeongsang provinces and South Jeolla Province connected to Yoo or his family.
A prosecution official pleaded for information on Yoo's whereabouts and vowed to protect the identities of informants. The official said the number of anonymous tips has increased since the bounty on Yoo's head was raised to W500 million (US$1=W1,024), but few were credible.
The reward for information leading the arrest of Yoo's eldest son Dae-gyun was also raised from W30 million to W100 million.
Meanwhile, Yoo's second son Hyuk-ki (42), who fled to the U.S. shortly after the ferry disaster on April 16, has reportedly been stopped from flying to France.
Members of Yoo's cult in a news conference in front of the sect's compound south of Seoul on Monday vowed to protect him from arrest. Earlier, followers claimed that Yoo is not their leader.
But a prosecution source said there are signs of a sharp division among followers, with a majority shocked by the corruption allegations and supporting Yoo's arrest, while only a small handful of fanatical supporters are rallying around him.
Some sources said Yoo's followers are trying to throw investigators off Yoo's trail by feeding them false information.