The search for Yoo Byung-eon, the fugitive owner of the ferry that sank on April 16, is gaining momentum with the arrest of a string of his relatives and close confidants.
Prosecutors have accused his confidants of aiding the escape of a criminal, but his family members have only been charged with embezzlement and breach of trust.
So far, nine of Yoo’s confidants have been arrested, most of them members of the Salvationist cult he leads, and five of his family members including his wife Kwon Yun-ja and brothers Yoo Byung-il and Byung-ho.
Family members of a felon cannot be arrested for aiding his or her escape. Under Korea's criminal law, any individual hiding or aiding the escape of a criminal faces up to three years in prison, but a special clause waives the law from being applied to kin. Experts say the clause was created due to an understanding of the strong family bonds in Korean society.
However, under a court precedent Yoo's family can be charged with inciting a third person to aid his escape and to hide him. The law takes an entirely different view if a family member of a criminal acts through a third person.
Legal experts say prosecutors are arresting Yoo’s family and friends on charges of embezzlement and breach of trust, which are unrelated to aiding his escape, just to smoke him out.