Billionaire huntedover ferry disaster

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South Korea is offering huge rewards for information about a mysterious missing billionaire who authorities say owns a ferry that sank last month, leaving more than 300 dead or missing.

The disappearance of Yoo Byung-eun and his son has caused a media frenzy in South Korea. Yoo is leader of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Korea, sometimes known as the Salvation Sect, which has been linked to a 1987 mass suicide during an embezzlement inquiry.

Yoo, 73, allegedly known to his followers as Moses, was thought to be holed up in a sprawling church compound near Seoul, and there was a tense, days-long stand-off between police and church followers, some of whom threatened to die as martyrs. But Yoo has now vanished from the compound.

Prosecutors and police have launched a huge manhunt and offered a 50 million won (£30,000) reward for information and 30 million won (£17,000) 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 suspect Yoo is responsible for unsafe business practices believed to have contributed to the Sewol ferry’s sinking, including overloading the ship and remodelling it to squeeze in more passengers and cargo. His son, Yoo Dae-gyun, faces embezzlement allegations.

Chonghaejin’s official leader, chief executive Kim Han-sik, and four other employees have already been arrested.