Warrant Issued Against Artist Embroiled in Sewol Ferry Disaster

Korean photographer now on the run.

Most wanted: Yoo Byung-eun and his eldest son, Dae-gyun
Most wanted: Yoo Byung-eun and his eldest son, Dae-gyun


The Incheon District Court in South Korea has issued an arrest warrant for Yoo Byung-eun, the Korea Times reports. The elusive businessman nicknamed “the millionaire with no face,” is considered one of the main individuals responsible for the ferry disaster that shook up the country. He also happens to be a nature photographer who works under the pseudonym of Ahae (chillingly, “Child” in Korean). His photos have been shown in Versailles and the Louvre.

Aged 73, Yoo is the patriarch behind Chonghaejin Marine Co. Ltd. The company was in charge of the doomed ship Sewol, which sunk on April 15, drowning nearly 300 passengers, most of them schoolchildren on route for an Easter holiday break on the island of Jeju.

According to JoongAng Daily, Yoo ordered a remodeling of the vessel two years ago. The changes included the creation of an exhibition gallery for his photographs. They speculate that the structural changes could have destabilized the overloaded ship at the time of the accident.

Yoo created Chonghaejin in 1999, using assets from Semo Ferries, a company linked to a mass “murder-suicide” in 1987, which was connected to a religious cult, according to The Asia Times. He was jailed for fraud in 1992. His two sons now own a combined 39 percent stake in I-One-I Holdings Co., directly involved with Chonghaejin.

This time, Yoo is charged with embezzlement, tax evasion, and breach of trust. It is feared that he might flee South Korea and destroy incriminating evidence. An arrest warrant has also been issue for his son Dae-Gyun.

On April 24 police raided Yoo’s house, leaving with card boxes full of documents. The prosecution found charts naming Yoo as the president of Chonghaejin.

At the time of the raid, a lawyer representing Yoo’s son was quoted in the Daily Mail saying: “Yoo and his family will take all legal and social responsibility for this tragic accident if they have to as major stakeholders of the company.”

But things changed rather rapidly. The day after, Yoo published a press release expressing his “profound sadness to Sewol ferry victims.” The document also states that the millionaire “does not own any shares, direct or indirect, of Chonghaejin nor is he involved in the company’s management.”

“He has devoted his last several years exclusively to his artistic endeavors,” the press release goes on saying, before quoting Prof. Milan. Knizak, director general of the National Gallery in Prague from 1999 to 2011, and Mike von Joel, Editor-in-Chief of State Magazine. Both sing the praises of the artist.

Ahae, or Yoo, has gone to great lengths to prove his artistic credibility. On his website he has posted video interviews with the likes of Louvre director Henri Loyrette and President of Versailles Catherine Pegard waxing lyrical about the photographer’s talent. Visitors on the site are also treated to two slideshows, showing some of his pictures accompanied by a meditative soundtrack.

The court hasn’t been swayed by such an artistic display. A reward of 50 million Korean won ($48,775) will be given to anyone providing information that will lead to Yoo’s arrest. Thirty million Korean won ($29,265) are offered for his son.

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