9,000 Officers Storm Compound in Search of Billionaire Tied to South Korea Ferry Disaster

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
June 12 2014 12:09 PM

9,000 Police Officers (!) Storm Church Compound in Search of Billionaire Tied to South Korea Ferry Disaster

Policemen near the Evangelical Baptist Church of Korea compound.

Photo by ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images

Thousands of law enforcement officers raided a massive South Korean church compound near Seoul in search of Yoo Byung-eun, a fugitive billionaire church member and businessman wanted in connection to the sinking of the Sewol ferry in April that left 304 people dead or missing. (Authorities believe that, while the Sewol's ownership situation was complicated, Yoo was the one who ultimately controlled the company that operated it.)

6,000 officers charged the compound on Wednesday and 3,000 on Thursday. The huge number of officers was a response to the zeal of the church's congregation—some members had threatened to die as martyrs in the event of a raid—and the size of the church grounds. From the Associated Press:

Police said the sheer size of the compound - about 30 football fields, including a fish farm, cow ranch and a 5,000-seat auditorium - required several thousand officers. Some were deployed outside the complex, the headquarters of the Evangelical Baptist Church, to block possible escape routes while a police helicopter hovered overhead on both days. Dozens of prosecution investigators were also involved.

In addition to the ongoing manhunt—Yoo was not found in the raid, but officials confiscated materials they believe will help locate him—the government is offering a $500,000 reward for hints on Yoo’s location. He faces allegations of tax evasion, embezzlement and professional negligence; officials say that he may have funneled money out of the company that operated the Sewol, in turn leading to inadequate spending on safety precautions and personnel. 

All 15 crew members responsible for the ship’s navigation have been charged with negligence; four, including the captain, could face capital punishment for homicide charges. 



Irene Chidinma Nwoye is a writer and former Slate intern in New York City. Follow her on Twitter.



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