South Korea ferry disaster

South Korean authorities raid home of ferry company boss Yoo Byung-un

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 April, 2014, 10:06pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 April, 2014, 10:10pm

Prosecutors investigating the fatal sinking of a South Korean ferry have raided the home of Yoo Byung-un, the head of a family that owns Chonghaejin Marine, the company that operated the ship.

Kim Hoe-jong, a prosecutor on the case, said yesterday's raid was part of a probe into "overall corruption in management".

Of the 476 passengers and crew on board the Sewol, 339 were children and teachers on a high school outing to the holiday island of Jeju. Only 174 people have been rescued and the remainder are presumed to have drowned. The confirmed death toll yesterday was 150.

South Korean prosecutors tend to adopt a blanket approach in raids, rather than targeting specific lines of inquiry.

They raided the home of one of Yoo's sons yesterday, but he was away, the door was locked and they could not enter the house. They also raided an office in the premises of a branch of a church that Yoo founded.

Financial regulators are also investigating whether the wider conglomerate illegally used overseas borrowings.

The finances of Chonghaejin have come into the spotlight after the disaster. Yoo was jailed for fraud for four years in the 1990s.

There is no suggestion that the past financial difficulties in any way contributed to the ferry sinking. Yoo's conviction for fraud in 1992 showed that funds from members of the church he founded, the Evangelical Baptist Church of Korea, were used in his businesses.

Around 1976, Yoo acquired a financially troubled trading company called Samwo Trading in a bid to create jobs for church members and increase their wealth, the transcript of the court case finding said.

Meanwhile, more than a week after the ferry sank, North Korea finally voiced its condolences for the victims of the disaster. The message was sent between the two Koreas' Red Cross organisations, which regularly handle official cross-border communications, the South's Unification Ministry said. The North's official KCNA news agency later confirmed the condolence message