Police on Tuesday launched a huge raid in search of South Korea's fugitive billionaire, Yoo Byung-un, wanted in connection to the Sewol ferry disaster in April.
Some 6,000 officers stormed a church in Anseong city, which belonged to the fugitive, who is also held responsible for the death of over 300 people – mostly students – in the disaster. Three church followers were detained in suspicion of assisting his escape.
The man is wanted on charges of embezzlement, negligence and tax evasion especially stemming from his business holdings for I-One-I, an 'investment vehicle' owned by his sons that ran the shipping company of the sunken ferry, reported Reuters.
The raid comes as pressure was mounted on the authorities for failing to detain Byung-un, amid claims from the Park Geun-hye government that it "made no sense" that long search operations had failed to find the man.
The desperate attempt by the government to find him comes after Seoul last month increased the reward for information leading to his arrest – an amount said to be equivalent to about half a million dollars.
Byung-un and his sons, one of whom is based in the United States have somehow managed to avoid the police detection, fueling speculation that they may have tried to pay a ship broker to take them to a country where the South Korean government cannot search for them.
The huge raid in the church comes only hours after Tuesday's trial of 15 surviving crew members in a courtroom that was packed with angry parents, who threw sharp innuendos at the crew members, especially the captain of the sunken ferry. The captain was later seen in a video fleeing the ship and leaving the people on board to their fates.
The officers, who were over 6,000 in numbers, took part in the raid in the vast church compound, moving from building to building at the site. They are believed to have ransacked an area equivalent to a dozen soccer pitches.
Byung-un, who is believed to be in his 70s is the co-founder of the Evangelical Baptist Church that runs the Anseong compound. Although Seoul authorities have frozen all his assets, there are reports that he may still have some more hidden elsewhere.
He is also believed to have kept a photography studio inside the Church and the compound is used by sect members to grow organic produce, run a fish farm and hold religious services among others.
The ship named Sewol, sank off the southwest coast on 16 April carrying mostly students, who were on a school trip, on their journey from Incheon on the mainland to the southern holiday island of Jeju. The ship was said to be overloaded and traveling in high speed.