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Cold cases jump on manhunt for fugitive ferry owner

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

SEOUL, July 14 (Yonhap) -- The number of unresolved criminal cases in South Korea has nearly doubled over the past three months as prosecutors have gone all out to capture the fugitive owner of a ferry that sank in April, data showed Monday.

A massive manhunt has been under way for Yoo Byeong-eun, who owns the sunken ferry's operator Chonghaejin Marine Co. The prosecution believes corruption by Yoo's family resulted in lax safety practices, such as cargo overloading, which ultimately led to the April 16 tragedy that claimed more than 300 lives.

According to the data by the Supreme Prosecutors' Office, the Incheon District Prosecutors' Office had some 7,100 unsolved cases as of last month, nearly double the average of 3,900 cases during the January-March period. Comparable figures were 4,900 such cases in April and 6,000 in May.

The district prosecution office is in charge of investigating the alleged irregularities by the Yoo family.

The Gwangju District Prosecutors' Office, which is charged with investigating the Coast Guard, had more than 3,500 unresolved cases as of June, up 78.9 percent from the January-March average. Its Mokpo branch saw the figure surge to 1,145 last month from an average of 679 in the first three months of this year.

The Busan District Prosecutors' Office, tasked with probing corruption in the overall marine transport industry, saw a 60 percent increase in unresolved cases to 3,927 during the cited period, according to the data.

"Prosecutors who are suddenly tasked with solving big cases (like the Sewol disaster) normally rely on other prosecutors to take over their old case loads, the transition of which makes the wrapping up of old cases take much longer. This has led to a surge in the number of unresolved cases," a prosecution source said, asking not to be identified.

The 6,825-ton Sewol with an estimated 476 people on board, mostly high school students on a field trip to the southern resort island of Jeju, sank off the southwestern island of Jindo. Eleven people remain missing in the ferry sinking, one of the country's worst maritime disasters.

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