S Korea ferry police target Yoo Byung-eun in huge raid

media captionFootage showed police at the scene of the raid

Thousands of South Korean police have raided a religious compound in search of a fugitive billionaire wanted over April's Sewol passenger ferry disaster.

Some 6,000 officers stormed the complex in Anseong city belonging to Yoo Byung-eun, who is thought to own the firm that operated the sunken ferry.

Four Church followers were detained on charges of assisting his escape.

At least 292 people died in the ferry disaster. Fifteen crew members went on trial over the deaths on Tuesday.

Ferry captain Lee Joon-seok, 69, and three others face the most serious charge of "homicide through wilful negligence".

A separate trial of senior executives blamed for procedural lapses is due to start later this month.

Helicopters flew overheard as about 200 Church members rallied against the raid.

Some held up a large banner that read: "We'll protect Yoo Byung-eun even if 100,000 Church members are all arrested."

Police also said they are still trying to find and detain more Church members for allegedly aiding Yoo.

image copyrightAFP
image captionSupporters of Mr Yoo's Church faced off with police outside the compound
image copyrightAP
image captionA member from the Church shouts anti-government slogans
image copyrightAP
image captionA nationwide manhunt for ferry company owner Yoo Byung-eun is currently under way
image copyrightReuters
image captionInvestigators have been trying to find evidence of mismanagement within the ferry company

President Park Geun-Hye this week urged police and prosecutors to step up a nationwide manhunt for Mr Yoo.

"Yoo must be brought to justice," Ms Park said.

Mr Yoo is wanted as part of an ongoing investigation into embezzlement and tax fraud.

Investigators are also questioning whether corruption or mismanagement within the ferry company led to poor safety standards.

Mr Yoo, 74, a leading religious figure, is believed to own the Chonghaejin Marine company that operated the sunken ferry.

Hundreds of church followers built a blockade in front of the compound but did not try to stop the police from entering the premises, Yonhap news agency reported.

The followers were said to have been staging a sit-in, arguing that the church had nothing to do with allegations raised by investigators.

A similar raid of the church's main compound in May turned up no trace of him.

South Korean authorities have raised the reward for information on his whereabouts to almost $500,000 (£300,000).

Related Topics