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Arrest warrant sought for S Korea ferry family head

South Korean prosecutors sought an arrest warrant Friday for the reclusive patriarch of the family that controls the operator of the ferry that sank last month with the loss of hundreds of lives.

SEOUL: South Korean prosecutors sought an arrest warrant Friday for the reclusive patriarch of the family that controls the operator of the ferry that sank last month with the loss of hundreds of lives.

Senior prosecutor Kim Hoe-jong said the warrant application had been made after Yoo Byung-eun failed to submit to an official summons.

A religious leader, photographer and billionaire businessmen once convicted of fraud, Yoo has a colourful and checkered past.

Although he has no direct stake in the ferry operator, Chonghaejin Marine Co, his sons control it through a complex web of holding companies.

Five Chonghaejin officials have already been arrested for possible criminal negligence, and the investigation has widened to the Yoo family and possible fraud and tax evasion charges.

The 73-year-old's whereabouts are unclear, and there are concerns that efforts to enforce a warrant could trigger a volatile showdown with a splinter church group, of which Yoo is a founder-member.

Hundreds of followers of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Korea are currently holed up in a compound in Anseong south of Seoul, and hundreds more are expected to join them over the weekend.

There are suspicions that Yoo may be in the compound, and the church followers have blockaded themselves in and warned against any police effort to force entry.

"We will never succumb to religious persecution," church spokesman Cho Gye-woong said in a televised press conference Thursday.

The church has an estimated 20,000 followers and, under a different name, made headlines in 1987 following the mass suicide of 32 members.

Yoo was investigated but cleared of any involvement.

Prosecutors investigating the ferry disaster have already raided Yoo's home, and his eldest son, Yoo Dae-gyun, is also being sought after ignoring an official summons.

The 6,825-tonne Sewol was carrying 476 people when it capsized and sank on April 16. So far, 284 people have been confirmed dead, with 20 still unaccounted for.

The Sewol's captain and three crew members were charged on Thursday with manslaughter through gross negligence.

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