Reward offered for missing S. Korea ferry owner

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Reward offered for missing S. Korea ferry owner
JINDO-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - APRIL 15: (CHINA OUT, SOUTH KOREA OUT) Relatives of victims of the Sewol ferry disaster weep as they stand on the deck of a boat during a visit to the site of the sunken ferry on April 15, 2015 in Jindo-gun, South Korea. The ferry Sewol carrying 476 passengers, including 325 school children, capsized off of Jindo Island in South Korea on April 16, 2014 resulting in 304 dead and missing. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
JINDO-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - APRIL 15: (CHINA OUT, SOUTH KOREA OUT) Relatives of victims of the Sewol ferry disaster weep as they attend a memorial prior to a visit to the site of the sunken ferry on April 15, 2015 in Jindo-gun, South Korea. The ferry Sewol carrying 476 passengers, including 325 school children, capsized off of Jindo Island in South Korea on April 16, 2014 resulting in 304 dead and missing. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
JINDO-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - APRIL 15: (CHINA OUT, SOUTH KOREA OUT) Relatives of victims of the Sewol ferry disaster weep as they stand on the deck of a boat during a visit to the site of the sunken ferry on April 15, 2015 in Jindo-gun, South Korea. The ferry Sewol carrying 476 passengers, including 325 school children, capsized off of Jindo Island in South Korea on April 16, 2014 resulting in 304 dead and missing. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
JINDO-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - APRIL 15: Relatives of victims of the Sewol ferry disaster weep as they stand on the deck of a boat during a visit to the site of the sunken ferry on April 15, 2015 in Jindo-gun, South Korea. The ferry Sewol carrying 476 passengers, including 325 school children, capsized off of Jindo Island in South Korea on April 16, 2014 resulting in 304 dead and missing. (Photo by Ed Jones - Pool/Getty Images)
JINDO-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - APRIL 15: Relatives of victims of the Sewol ferry disaster weep as they stand on the deck of a boat during a visit to the site of the sunken ferry on April 15, 2015 in Jindo-gun, South Korea. The ferry Sewol carrying 476 passengers, including 325 school children, capsized off of Jindo Island in South Korea on April 16, 2014 resulting in 304 dead and missing. (Photo by Ed Jones - Pool/Getty Images)
JINDO-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - APRIL 15: A relative of victims of the Sewol ferry disaster weeps as she and others stand on the deck of a boat during a visit to the site of the sunken ferry on April 15, 2015 in Jindo-gun, South Korea. The ferry Sewol carrying 476 passengers, including 325 school children, capsized off of Jindo Island in South Korea on April 16, 2014 resulting in 304 dead and missing. (Photo by Ed Jones - Pool/Getty Images)
Relatives of victims of the Sewol ferry disaster weep as they stand on the deck of a boat during a visit to the site of the sunken ferry off the coast of South Korea's southern island of Jindo on April 15, 2015. More than 100 relatives of victims of South Korea's Sewol ferry disaster tearfully cast flowers into the sea at an emotional memorial event on the eve of the tragedy's first anniversary. AFP PHOTO / POOL / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
Sewol ferry captain Lee Jun-Seok (C) is escorted after arriving at a courthouse in Gwangju on November 11, 2014. After five months of dramatic, often painful testimony, a South Korean court will deliver its verdict -- and possible death sentence -- on the ferry captain at the centre of one of the country's worst peacetime disasters. AFP PHOTO / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
Sewol ferry crew members (centre R) inside a a court room in Gwangju at the start of the verdict proceedings on November 11, 2014. After five months of dramatic, often painful testimony, a South Korean court will deliver its verdict -- and possible death sentence -- on the ferry captain at the centre of one of the country's worst peacetime disasters. AFP PHOTO / POOL / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
Sewol ferry captain Lee Jun-Seok (6th R) sits with other crew members inside a a court room in Gwangju at the start of the verdict proceedings on November 11, 2014. After five months of dramatic, often painful testimony, a South Korean court will deliver its verdict -- and possible death sentence -- on the ferry captain at the centre of one of the country's worst peacetime disasters. AFP PHOTO / POOL / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
Sewol ferry crew members (C) inside a a court room in Gwangju at the start of the verdict proceedings on November 11, 2014. After five months of dramatic, often painful testimony, a South Korean court will deliver its verdict -- and possible death sentence -- on the ferry captain at the centre of one of the country's worst peacetime disasters. AFP PHOTO / POOL / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
Sewol ferry captain Lee Jun-Seok (3rd R) sits with other crew members inside a a court room in Gwangju at the start of the verdict proceedings on November 11, 2014. After five months of dramatic, often painful testimony, a South Korean court will deliver its verdict -- and possible death sentence -- on the ferry captain at the centre of one of the country's worst peacetime disasters. AFP PHOTO / POOL / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
Sewol ferry captain Lee Joon-Seok (C) is escorted upon his arrival at the Gwangju District Court in the southwestern South Korean city of Gwangju on June 24, 2014. Lee Joon-Seok and three crew members are accused of 'homicide through wilful negligence' -- a charge that falls between first-degree murder and manslaughter, but still carries the death penalty. Eleven other members of the crew are being tried on lesser charges of criminal negligence and violations of maritime law. The Sewol was carrying 476 passengers, including 325 students on a school trip, when it sank off the southwest coast on April 16. AFP PHOTO / WONSUK CHOI (Photo credit should read Wonsuk Choi/AFP/Getty Images)
Relatives of victims of the 'Sewol' ferry confront vice police chief Choi Sang Han (C) after they forcibly removed him from an office at Jindo harbour on April 24, 2014. The confirmed death toll on April 24 stood at 171, but 131 were still missing as dive teams searched in near pitch-black conditions for bodies trapped in the ferry's interior. AFP PHOTO / NICOLAS ASFOURI (Photo credit should read NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)
Relatives of victims of the 'Sewol' ferry confront vice police chief Choi Sang Han (C) as they forcibly remove him from an office at Jindo harbour on April 24, 2014. The confirmed death toll on April 24 stood at 171, but 131 were still missing as dive teams searched in near pitch-black conditions for bodies trapped in the ferry's interior. AFP PHOTO / ED JONES (Photo credit should read NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)
Relatives of victims of the 'Sewol' ferry confront vice police chief Choi Sang Han (centre L) as they forcibly remove him from an office at Jindo harbour on April 24, 2014. The confirmed death toll on April 24 stood at 171, but 131 were still missing as dive teams searched in near pitch-black conditions for bodies trapped in the ferry's interior. AFP PHOTO / NICOLAS ASFOURI (Photo credit should read NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)
Relatives of victims of the 'Sewol' ferry confront vice police chief Choi Sang Han (C) as they forcibly remove him from an office at Jindo harbour on April 24, 2014. The confirmed death toll on April 24 stood at 171, but 131 were still missing as dive teams searched in near pitch-black conditions for bodies trapped in the ferry's interior. AFP PHOTO / NICOLAS ASFOURI (Photo credit should read NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)
Relatives of victims of the 'Sewol' ferry express their frustration as they surround police officer Choi Sang Han (C) after forcibly removing him from an office at Jindo harbour on April 24, 2014. The confirmed death toll from South Korea's ferry disaster crossed 100 on April 22, as dive teams, under growing pressure from bereaved relatives, accelerated the grim task of recovering hundreds more bodies from the submerged vessel. AFP PHOTO / ED JONES (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
People attend a memorial for the victims of the sunken South Korean ferry 'Sewol' at the Ansan Olympic memorial hall on April 24, 2014. The confirmed death toll stood at 171, but 131 were still missing as dive teams searched in near pitch-black conditions for bodies trapped in the ferry's interior. AFP PHOTO/ KIM DOO-HO (Photo credit should read KIM DOO-HO/AFP/Getty Images)
People attend a memorial for the victims of the sunken South Korean ferry 'Sewol' at the Ansan Olympic memorial hall on April 24, 2014. The confirmed death toll stood at 171, but 131 were still missing as dive teams searched in near pitch-black conditions for bodies trapped in the ferry's interior. AFP PHOTO/ KIM DOO-HO (Photo credit should read KIM DOO-HO/AFP/Getty Images)
Coastguard boats and search and rescue teams take part in recovery operations at night at the site of the 'Sewol' ferry, off the coast of the South Korean island of Jindo on April 24, 2014. The confirmed death toll from South Korea's ferry disaster rose sharply to more than 120 on April 22 as divers speeded up the grim task of recovering bodies from the submerged ship and police took two more of its crew into custody. AFP PHOTO/ Nicolas ASFOURI (Photo credit should read NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)
Coastguards ride a boat during recovery operations at the site of the 'Sewol' ferry, off the coast of the South Korean island of Jindo on April 24, 2014. The confirmed death toll from South Korea's ferry disaster rose sharply to more than 120 on April 22 as divers speeded up the grim task of recovering bodies from the submerged ship and police took two more of its crew into custody. AFP PHOTO/ Nicolas ASFOURI (Photo credit should read NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)
Coastguard police chief Kim Seouk Gyun (bottom C), vice coastguard police chief Choi Sang Han (bottom R), and South Korean minister of Oceans and Fisheries Lee Ju Young (bottom L) attend a meeting with relatives of victims of the 'Sewol' ferry at Jindo harbour on April 24, 2014. The confirmed death toll from South Korea's ferry disaster crossed 100 on April 22, as dive teams, under growing pressure from bereaved relatives, accelerated the grim task of recovering hundreds more bodies from the submerged vessel. AFP PHOTO / ED JONES (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
ANSAN, SOUTH KOREA - APRIL 23: Students and citizens hold candles as they pray for the safe return of missing passengers who were travelling aboard south Korean ferry the Sewol, which sank off the coast of Jindo Island, on April 23, 2014 in Ansan, South Korea. The confirmed death toll is reported to have risen to 150, with more than 150 people still missing. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
Relatives of a passenger on board the capsized South Korean ferry Sewol weep at an area where family members of victims of the disaster are gathered at Jindo harbour on April 22, 2014. The confirmed death toll from South Korea's ferry disaster crossed 100, as dive teams, under growing pressure from bereaved relatives, accelerated the grim task of recovering hundreds more bodies from the submerged vessel. AFP PHOTO / Nicolas ASFOURI (Photo credit should read NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)
South Korean coast guards and rescue workers are seen at the accident site of the capsized South Korean ferry Sewol in Jindo on April 22, 2014. The confirmed death toll in South Korea's ferry disaster crossed 100, but almost twice that number remained unaccounted for nearly a week into the rescue and recovery effort. AFP PHOTO / Nicolas ASFOURI (Photo credit should read NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)
A man looks at flowers and messages at a makeshift memorial at the main gate of Danwon high school in Ansan on April 21, 2014 where many of the schoolchildren missing from the sunken South Korean ferry 'Sewol' attended. The captain and crew of the South Korean ferry that capsized last week with hundreds of children on board acted in a way 'tantamount to murder,' President Park Guen-Hye said on April 21, as four more crew members were arrested. AFP PHOTO / KIM DOO-HO (Photo credit should read KIM DOO-HO/AFP/Getty Images)
JINDO-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - APRIL 21: Rescue workers carry a victim of the sunken ferry off the coast of Jindo Island on April 21, 2014 in Jindo-gun, South Korea. At least sixty four people are reported dead, with 238 still missing. The ferry identified as the Sewol was carrying about 470 passengers, including the students and teachers, traveling to Jeju Island. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
South Korean rescue members carry the body of a victim recovered from the 'Sewol' ferry to an ambulance at a harbour in Jindo on April 22, 2014. The confirmed death toll from South Korea's ferry disaster crossed 100 on April 22, as dive teams, under growing pressure from bereaved relatives, accelerated the grim task of recovering hundreds more bodies from the submerged vessel. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
JINDO-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - APRIL 16: In this screen shot handout of helicopter camera provided by the Republic of Korea Coat Guard, the ferry is seen sinking off as the rescue work continues the coast of Jindo Island on April 16, 2014 in Jindo-gun, South Korea. Two people are dead, and more than ninety are missing as reported. The ferry identified as the Sewol was carrying about 470 passengers, including the students and teachers, traveling to Jeju island. (Photo by The Republic of Korea Coast Guard via Getty Images)
JINDO-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - APRIL 16: In this screen shot handout of helicopter camera provided by the Republic of Korea Coat Guard, the ferry is seen sinking as the rescue work continues off the coast of Jindo Island on April 16, 2014 in Jindo-gun, South Korea. Two people are dead, and more than ninety are missing as reported. The ferry identified as the Sewol was carrying about 470 passengers, including the students and teachers, traveling to Jeju island. (Photo by Handout/The Republic of Korea Coast Guard via Getty Images)
JINDO-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - APRIL 16: In this screen shot handout of helicopter camera provided by the Republic of Korea Coat Guard, the ferry is seen sinking as the rescue work continues off the coast of Jindo Island on April 16, 2014 in Jindo-gun, South Korea. Two people are dead, and more than ninety are missing as reported. The ferry identified as the Sewol was carrying about 470 passengers, including the students and teachers, traveling to Jeju island. (Photo by The Republic of Korea Coast Guard via Getty Images)
Flares light up the sea for search and rescue teams during recovery operations at the site of the 'Sewol' ferry of the coast of the South Korean island on Jindo on April 22, 2014. Divers began to locate bodies on April 19 inside a submerged South Korean ferry as the detained captain defended his decision to delay evacuation of the ship when it capsized nearly four days ago with 476 people on board. AFP PHOTO / ED JONES (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - South Korea is offering a $50,000 reward for information about a mysterious missing billionaire who authorities say owns a ferry that sank last month, leaving more than 300 people dead or missing.

The disappearance of Yoo Byung-eun and his son has caused a media frenzy in South Korea. Yoo is a member of a church that critics call a cult and have linked to a 1987 mass suicide; church members deny involvement.

Yoo, 73, was thought to be holed up in a sprawling church compound near Seoul, and there was a tense, dayslong standoff between police and hundreds of church followers, some of whom reportedly threatened to die as martyrs.

But Yoo wasn't there when church members on Wednesday finally opened the compound to authorities, and some speculated that he may have fled to the home of a church follower. Prosecutors and police then announced a 50 million won ($50,000) reward for information about Yoo's location, and 30 million won ($30,000) for details about his eldest son.

Yoo, head of the now-defunct predecessor of the ferry's current operator, Chonghaejin, allegedly still controls the company through a complex web of holding companies in which his children and close associates are large shareholders. Senior prosecutor Kim Hoe-jong said authorities believe Yoo is the chairman of Chonghaejin.

Yoo faces allegations of tax evasion, embezzlement and professional negligence. Prosecutors have said they suspect that the April 16 ferry sinking may have happened because Chonghaejin illicitly funneled profits to Yoo's family, and so failed to spend enough money on safety and personnel. His son, Yoo Dae-gyun, faces embezzlement allegations.

Chonghaejin's official leader, CEO Kim Han-sik, and four other employees have already been arrested. Officials suspect improper stowage and overloading of cargo may have contributed to the disaster.

Officers at the National Police Agency said Thursday that they have begun a massive manhunt to capture Yoo.

A special team of about 150 veteran detectives and police officers has been established. Tens of thousands of posters with photos of Yoo and his son and information about the rewards have been plastered on bus terminals, train stations and other public places, agency officials said. Officers who capture Yoo or his son will be promoted by one rank.

Yoo is said to be the leader of the Evangelical Baptist Church, sometimes known as the Salvation Sect, and critics allege that church members call him "Moses." Church members deny that and say Yoo is just an ordinary member, although they acknowledge he has some influence because of his long affiliation with the church, which was founded by his father-in-law.

The church was in the news in 1987 when 32 people, then reportedly affiliated with a splinter group of the Salvation Sect, were found dead in the attic of a factory near Seoul in what authorities said was a collective murder-suicide pact. The deaths occurred as police investigated whether the splinter group's leader swindled money from more than 200 people.

Yoo later faced an investigation over the deaths. A probe into the dead people's financial transactions showed some of their money was funneled to him. He was cleared of suspicions that he was behind the suicides because of a lack of evidence, but he was convicted on a separate fraud charge that he collected donations from church members and invested them in his businesses.

Yoo founded Chonghaejin's predecessor, Semo Corp., in 1979. The conglomerate, which found success with businesses running cruises on Seoul's Han River, had firms involved in cosmetics, real estate, other domestic ferry businesses and shipbuilding. It once had nearly 3,000 employees. Semo went bankrupt amid the Asian foreign exchange crisis in the late 1990s.

Even after Semo's bankruptcy, Yoo's family continued to operate ferry businesses under the names of other companies, including one that eventually became Chonghaejin. The ferry businesses owned by Yoo's family suffered a slew of maritime accidents. In 1991, 14 Semo workers were killed when their cruise ship on the Han River was hit by another ship.

In recent years, Yoo has worked as a photographer under the name of "Ahae," and his works have been shown at the Louvre and the Palace of Versailles. Companies affiliated with Chonghaejin reportedly have spent tens of millions of dollars to buy his photographs.

___

Associated Press writers Youkyung Lee and Jung-yoon Choi contributed to this report.

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