Net tightens around family of South Korea ferry owner as brother is arrested

ANSEONG, South Korea (Reuters) - South Korean police on Friday arrested the brother of a South Korean businessman linked to a ferry disaster in April in which hundreds of schoolchildren drowned, as the net appeared to tighten around the fugitive's family.

But Mr Yoo Byung Un, 73, a businessman and photographer, is still on the run, eluding one of the country's biggest and most bizarre manhunts for more than a month, centred on a huge church sect compound south of Seoul.

His elder brother Yoo Byung Il was arrested near the leafy compound in Anseong, where the police are checking all passing vehicles and pedestrians.

Mr Yoo Byung Un's daughter Yoo Som Na has been held in France since May 28 after Interpol called for her arrest "for fraud and embezzlement". She was denied bail on Wednesday

Mr Yoo Byung Un is wanted on charges of embezzlement, negligence and tax evasion stemming from a web of business holdings centred on I-One-I, an investment vehicle owned by his sons that ran the shipping company, Chonghaejin Marine.

Chonghaejin owned the Sewol, which sank off the south-west coast on April 16, killing more than 300 people, many of them schoolchildren, on a routine journey from Incheon on the mainland to the southern holiday island of Jeju.

Yonhap news agency said the brother received monthly consulting fees from Chonghaejin and was arrested on charges of embezzlement and fraud-related real estate deals. Prosecutors have not disclosed the charges.

Reuters was unable to verify the report independently.

The police this week raided the Evangelical Baptist Church compound for the second time as they tried to flush out Mr Yoo, who is also the sect's co-founder, combing its grounds for two days with earth movers and sniffer dogs.

On Friday, the religious group invited journalists into the grounds, accusing police and prosecution officials of exceeding terms of their search warrant and damaging private property. "The deer, birds and fireflies were likely startled, and there is damage everywhere," group spokesman Cho Kye Ung said.

Sect members grow organic produce and run fresh water fish farms. Mr Yoo is believed to have had a large office on the compound that included a photography studio.

The authorities have detained a middle-aged female sect member who is accused of helping him escape after she turned herself in on Friday. The police are still looking for another one of the key middle-aged female sect members known as "mamas".

The news briefing was held in a building called "Cleopatra" where Mr Cho said Mr Yoo Byung Il had been "coming to work" on the compound after retirement. "This is not some religious place as people keep saying. It is a place of life and work for us," he said, after about 100 followers sang hymns.

The police believe Mr Yoo Byung Un and one of his sons are still in South Korea. Another son is based in the United States but his whereabouts could not be established by Reuters.

South Korea's Ministry of Security and Public Administration will distribute wanted posters of Mr Yoo Byung Un and his son, a spokesman for the ministry said.

Of the 476 passengers and crew on board the Sewol, 339 were children and teachers from the same school. Only 172 people were rescued and the remainder are all presumed to have drowned in South Korea's worst civilian maritime disaster in 20 years.

Fifteen members of the ferry's crew are on trial on charges ranging from homicide to negligence after they were caught on video abandoning ship as the children stayed put in their cabins.