Sewol owner’s retreat raided

A group of investigators again forced their way into Geumsuwon, a religious compound in Anseong, Gyeonggi Province, on Wednesday in a bid to arrest key aides of Yoo Byung-eun, the de facto owner of the sunken ferry Sewol.

Police arrested several people suspected of helping Yoo evade police and providing him places to hide. The compound is owned by the Salvation Sect, which is led by the 73-year-old fugitive.

As of 6 p.m. Wednesday, five devotees in the sect were captured for allegedly colluding with the Sewol owner's getaway and one for obstructing investigators from carrying out their duties.

Some 4,000 policemen, armed with court-issued warrants, were dispatched around 8:10 a.m.

The prosecution and police suspect that two female followers were closely assisting Yoo. Law enforcement authorities, however, failed to arrest the two confidants: Kim Myung-sook, 59, and Shin Myung-hee, 64.

Kim and Shin are suspected of masterminding Yoo's escape. They are called "mother Kim" and "mother Shin" by devotees of the sect.

After Yoo's male confidant Lee Jae-ok, a medical professor, was arrested by police for similar charges, the female followers reportedly organised systematic support from Geumsuwon for the fugitive.

Some hundred devotees built a blockade in front of the retreat nestled in the mountains about 80 kilometers from Seoul, but did not try to stop the police from entering the premises.

Yoo's followers have been staging a sit-in protest at the gate, arguing that the church has nothing to do with the allegations raised by the investigators.

Later in the day, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the military has heightened its vigilance against possible attempts by the fugitive to smuggle himself abroad.

The JCS said in a statement that the military has strengthened its vigilance and surveillance of any passengers or boats suspected of being related to an escape attempt.

"Should they spot such cases, the military will maintain close cooperation and coordination with the authorities, including the prosecution and police," the JCS said.

The Army and the Navy units in charge of guarding the western sea border have been instructed to closely monitor the situation to see if any escape attempt takes place, according to a military officer who asked not to be named.

But the officer clarified that the move does not mean that the military has changed or will change any of its current readiness posture.