Ferry Owner's Driver Holds Key to Mysterious Death

Ferry owner Yoo Byung-eons summer cottage is sealed by police in Suncheon, South Jeolla Province on Wednesday. /Newsis Ferry owner Yoo Byung-eon's summer cottage is sealed by police in Suncheon, South Jeolla Province on Wednesday. /Newsis

The chauffeur of ferry owner Yoo Byung-eon has become the focus of the increasingly bizarre investigation of his boss' mysterious death near a summer cottage in southwestern Korea.

Police believe Yang Hoe-jung, who remains at large, may be able to explain why Yoo was found dead in an advanced state of decomposition on June 12. One question looming large is why he left Yoo alone in Suncheon and headed to Jeonju as police were about to raid the cottage.

The last people to see the fugitive cult leader were Yang and Yoo's secretary, identified by her surname Shin. Yang, who is also a carpenter, refurbished the cottage before Yoo sought refuge there, masking the windows with fabric to keep light from seeping out at night. He also apparently built the secret compartment in the cottage walls where Yoo hid during the police raid.

The chauffeur had been with Yoo since he went on the run on May 3 but fled by car on his own on May 25 after he learned about the police raid in a nearby restaurant and headed for Jeonju. He was captured on CCTV at a freeway intersection at 3:10 p.m. and again in Jeonju at 5:30 p.m. and at 8:16 a.m. the following day getting out of his car with his sister-in-law in a parking lot.

Yang's sister-in-law, also surnamed Yoo but no relation, told prosecutors later Yang appeared out of nowhere and said he left Yoo alone in the woods in Suncheon and asked her help to go rescue him.

But the sister-in-law refused to help him and instead drove Yang to the compound owned by Yoo's cult south of Seoul. That was the last time he was seen.

When Yang fled the cottage, he had plenty of time to take Yoo to another hideout. It is unclear whether he panicked or what other reason he had to abandon Yoo at the cottage. He may have left Yoo in the care of another person before heading off to Jeonju to throw investigators off the track.

englishnews@chosun.com / Jul. 25, 2014 09:32 KST