S. Korea ferry tragedy: Firm owner’s son snubs probe summons

SEOUL - The investigation into Yoo Byung-eon and his family appears to have hit a snag, with key suspects refusing to comply with the prosecution's summons.

On Monday, Yoo Byung-eon's eldest son, Yoo Dae-gyun, ignored the prosecution's summons in connection with the assorted wrongdoings his family allegedly committed. Prosecutors requested a warrant to detain him later in the day.

Yoo Byung-eon, the de facto owner of the sunken ferry Sewol and a host of affiliated companies, and his family members are suspected of a string of wrongdoings including embezzlement and tax evasion.

The prosecution suspects that Yoo Dae-gyun's work as a landscape artist may have provided a channel for the Yoo family's slush funds. The investigators are said to be working on verifying whether Yoo Dae-gyun's landscape pieces in Canada and the US, as well as sculptures and antiques displayed in a restaurant co-owned by him, are part of the Yoos' hidden assets.

The prosecution suspects that the Yoos and their associates are acting in concert to avoid questioning over concerns that the authorities have secured sufficient evidence to prove their involvement. Yoo's second son Yoo Hyeok-gi and eldest daughter Yoo Sum-na have also refused to appear for questioning, prompting the authorities to request extradition from the US In addition, another daughter, Yoo Sang-na, and close associates Kim Hye-kyung and Kim Pil-bae have also ignored summons.

The investigators are said to have secured evidence showing that Yoo is the real owner of companies linked to the Sewol, including its operator Chonghaejin Marine Co.

The probe has so far revealed that Yoo drew a large salary from Chonghaejin, which also paid him a hefty monthly consultation fee. In addition, a number of local and overseas companies connected to the family are suspected to have been used to disguise illegal foreign exchange transactions and other irregular methods used to establish the Yoos' slush fund.

With key suspects refusing to cooperate, the prosecution is now reportedly considering seeking a warrant to detain Yoo without first summoning the 72-year-old businessman. The investigators, however, have not yet determined when actions may be taken against Yoo.

The only member of the Yoo family to have been questioned so far is Yoo's elder brother, Yoo Byung-il.

Along with Yoo Byung-il, Chae Gyu-jeong, the head of Semo-affiliate Onzigoo Co. since 2008, was grilled Sunday. He was questioned for allegedly inflicting losses on his own company to help Yoo's family create a slush fund.

Chae, a former vice governor of North Jeolla Province, is also suspected of using his political connections to act as a lobbyist for the Yoos.