Sewol owner hid inside closet during vacation home raid

INCHEON, July 23 (Yonhap) -- The fugitive shipping tycoon wanted over April's ferry sinking was hiding inside a secret closet of his vacation home in southern South Korea during a raid in May, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Yoo Byung-eun, a 73-year-old billionaire who owned Sewol operator Chonghaejin Marine Co., had been holed up at the vacation home in the southern city of Suncheon, about 415 kilometers south of Seoul, according to the prosecution. The house is about 2.5 kilometers away from where Yoo's badly decomposed body was found on June 12.

Yoo was hiding inside a small closet when police and prosecutors stormed the house on May. 25, according to prosecutors of Incheon District Prosecutors' Office probing the case.

"We hurriedly evacuated Yoo to the closet made out of logs on the second floor after we heard investigators trying to get inside the vacation home," a 33-year-old close aide to Yoo was quoted by the prosecution as saying.

Two bags filled with 830 million won (US$810,500) and US$160,000, respectively, were also found inside the closet, prosecutors said.

"It is deplorable that the prosecution could not find (Yoo at the time of the raid)," said an investigator close to the investigation.

The prosecution has come under fire for failing to catch the country's most wanted man and a delay in identifying the body even after expending massive financial and personnel resources in the search.

The Supreme Prosecutors' Office (SPO) said that it has sent a team of inspectors to the Suncheon office to further examine the conduct of investigators in the case.

Meanwhile, the National Police Agency dismissed the chief of the provincial police agency in South Jeolla, which governs the Suncheon police office, over the botched manhunt.

The national agency launched an inspection of police officers involved in the search operation a day earlier after discovering that the retrieved body of Yoo was left unidentified for some six weeks.

"The latest dismissal indicates the seriousness of the issue," a National Police Agency official said on condition of anonymity.

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