'Salvation sect' suspected of backing Yoo's business
Posted : 2014-04-25 20:33
Updated : 2014-04-26 14:03
By Kang Hyun-kyung
Yoo Byung-eun, the de facto owner of the sunken ferry Sewol, is suspected of having used the Evangelical Baptist Church as a key source to fund the expansion of his business empire illegally, according to the prosecution.
To find evidence of illegalities that might have contributed to the ferry disaster, investigators raided Yoo's home, and other companies and religious organizations allegedly linked to the church, Friday.
A special investigation team is looking into the seized materials and summoned a financier of the church for questioning the previous day to trace illegal deals between the sect and companies run by Yoo and his two sons.
Yoo and his father-in-law, Pastor Kwon Shin-chan, created the religious group in 1962, which was defined as a cult by the conservative Christian denomination, the General Assembly of Presbyterian Churches, in 1992. Yoo's has had an eventful career, from a pastor to a businessman to a billionaire photographer and then back again to a businessman.
While serving as a pastor in the 1970s, he established a toy company and practically forced members of the "salvation sect" to work there under poor working conditions.
In a recent media interview, Chung Dong-seop, a former believer in the sect, said that Yoo preached that members would please God if they worked for the company run by the church.
"Their working conditions were miserable. They worked long hours but received a tenth of the wages of the average workers at that time. Yoo accumulated a considerable amount of money by exploiting his workers and the fortune he earned like this was used as seed money for the construction of his business empire," said Chung,who is now a pastor.
As the toy business thrived, he said, Yoo no longer introduced himself as a pastor, but a CEO.
The sect reportedly has nearly 200,000 believers. But those who are familiar with the sect claimed that the actual number is merely some 10,000, including some celebrities.
The term salvation sect has resurfaced in the media nearly three decades after a mass suicide that shocked the nation in 1987, when 32 people were found dead inside the attic of the cafeteria of the Odaeyang artifacts factory.
The 32 were Odaeyang owner Park Soon-ja, her three children and her employees. The prosecution initially suspected that Yoo was linked to the mass suicide because the late Park was once involved in the Evangelical Baptist Church and a cash flow between the two groups was uncovered.
But the prosecution failed to find a physical connection between the sect and the mass suicide and concluded that the 32 were members of a separate religious cult that believed in the apocalyptic end of the world.
Yoo expanded his business empire rapidly in the 1990s before Semo, a holding company he founded, went under.
Yoo and his two sons restarted a shipping business, setting up Chonghaejin Marine, the operator of the ferry, in 1999, and since then have expanded the scope of their businesses.