Ferry Owner's Last Moments Shrouded in Mystery

The driver of ferry owner Yoo Beung-eon, who helped his boss evade capture after the April 16 ferry disaster, turned himself in on Tuesday morning but told prosecutors he does not know how Yoo died.

That makes it ever less likely that the cause of the death of Yoo, who was found dead in a badly decomposed state on June 12, will ever be known for sure.

The driver, Yang Hoe-jung, told prosecutors he had already fled when Yoo apparently wandered into the woods near the cottage in southwestern Korea where he had been hiding until a raid by investigators on May 25.

Yang said Yoo's death came as a shock to him and he decided to turn himself in after learning that his wife, who also helped Yoo's escape and turned herself in on Monday, was allowed to go home after questioning.

Yang faces charges of aiding the escape of a felon after he helped Yoo escape from the sprawling compound in Anseong south of Seoul owned by the ferry owner's crackpot cult, and prepared his hideout in Suncheon, South Jeolla Province.

Yang is the last of Yoo's helpers to turn himself in to police, who believe he was one of the last people to see the cult leader alive and hoped he would provide vital clues to the cause of his death.

But Yang said the last time he saw Yoo was on May 24, and he did not know of Yoo's death until he saw the media reports.

When Yoo was driven in his Bentley to the cottage on May 3, five members of his sect accompanied him to the hideout. All have now turned themselves in to police.

Yang served as Yoo's right-hand man during his days on the run, shuttling back and forth from the cottage in Suncheon and the compound in Anseong, delivering water and food. He also communicated with others on behalf of the fugitive and taking them to meet him.

He said the last time he saw Yoo was on the night of May 24 right before investigators raided a restaurant near the cottage. At the time, Yoo and his secretary, identified by her surname Shin, were hiding at the cottage while Yang was staying at a training center owned by the sect just 700 m away.

Yang left Yoo's cottage on the evening of May 24, and in early morning of May 25 he heard investigators drive up to the parking lot of the training center. That was when Yang said he ran away to Jeonju, North Jeolla Province, where his sister-in-law lived.

Yang was sure that investigators would be guarding the gate of the training center but was surprised to see it empty and simply fled into the night.

Yang said he left Yoo in the cottage because he was afraid of exposing him by attempting to go there. A prosecution spokesman said questioning will continue.

This means that the last person to see Yoo alive was his secretary, who had taken him to the secret compartment inside the cottage when investigators raided to property.

Shin was arrested on the spot and Yoo emerged from the cubbyhole after investigators left and was found dead two weeks later in a field 2.5 km away. 

englishnews@chosun.com / Jul. 30, 2014 09:33 KST