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Falling Down the Rabbit Hole in Search of Korea’s Most Wanted Man


You take the BLUE pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe.
You take the RED pill, you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the Rabbit Hole goes.

— Morpheus, The Matrix

Korea’s Most Wanted (INTERPOL Red Notice)

For a long time, I did my best to stay away from the Sewol Ferry news reports for a variety of reasons:

  1. Constant intake of negative news stories eventually leads your attitude toward further negativity.
  2. I cannot personally do anything to affect the course of events in this news story. The most I can do is gossip about it.
  3. The tragedy itself has passed. Nothing can be done to save the children. The only things left to do are (1) to bring those responsible to justice and (2) fix things so that something like this doesn’t happen again.

#1: Fixing Things

President Park has (tearfully) promised to disband the Coast Guard for their part (negligence) in this tragedy.

Additionally, the shipping company (CheongHaeJin) that ran the Sewol ferry has had their business license revoked (the first time this kind of thing has happened since a similar 1992 tragedy). I previously wrote about that and CheongHaeJin’s apology to the victims’ families in this post. (Note: the company website has since been taken down.)

Seems like a pretty good start – but things are far from finished – because this is the point at which things start to get weird.

This is the point at which I began to find myself falling deeper and deeper down the Rabbit Hole…


#2: Bringing Those Responsible to Justice

Who is responsible?

A) The captain and his crew left the ship and some 288 passengers (+ 16 still missing) – mostly kids – to die, while instructing them to remain in their cabins awaiting rescue (or death).

  1. May 15, 2014: Captain and 3 crew members were charged with murder. Eleven other crew members were indicted for abandoning ship.

B) The shipping company had previously modified the ship (making it unstable during turns) and overloaded it.

  1. May 12, 2014: Chonghaejin Marine’s license revoked. They only spent 540,000 won ($500 USD) on safety training last year. If you bought a Starbucks coffee every third day for a year, you’d have spent more money on coffee than the organization spent on safety.

C) The chairman of the shipping company who directed the remodeling, glossed over its stability problems, ignored advice to sell the ship, and continued to run it even though it was accident prone.

  1. May 22, 2014: Warrant issued for the arrest of him and his 4 children. Reward money offered at 50,000,000 won (US $48,000) for him and 30,000,000 won (US $27,000) for his oldest son.
  2. May 23, 2014: INTERPOL Red Notices filed for him and his children.
  3. May 26, 2014: Reward money 10xed up to 500,000,000 won (US $480,000) for him and 100,000,000 won (US $98,000) for his son.

So, who is this international fugitive really, who’s now worth almost $1/2 million USD?


Who is Yoo Byeong-Eon?

#1: Chairman of CheongHaeJin

Although both his lawyer and Ahae Press (his U.S. publicist) have claimed he has no financial ties nor owns any shares in CheongHaeJin, Yoo is regarded as the de facto (true) owner of the company and the Sewol. Evidence includes:

  1. On a document prepared a day before the sinking, he is listed as Chairman with employee number A99001, or employee No. 1 at the company, which was established in 1999.
  2. He was apparently on payroll and receiving 10 million won ($9,800 USD) monthly as his salary for more than a year.
  3. He is the head of the family that owns the majority of shares in the company.
  4. He is the former chief of the Semo Group (a tangled web of dozens of affiliates, which own each other ultimately controlled by individuals ― former Chairman Yoo Byung-eun’s two sons and seven of his friends), which ran shipping and ferry companies until it declared bankruptcy in 1997 at the start of the IMF crisis.
  5. The tangled web of affiliates, partnership and investment companies, that actually own the company is very Chaebul-esque (“This kind of shadow management through his children or close aides is not uncommon among chaebol companies.”)
  6. Yoo directed the remodeling of the Sewol dedicating the entire newly built 5th floor to showcase his personal photographs (taken under the pseudonym, Ahae – more below)
  7. He’s estimated to have amassed a 240 billion won ($231 million USD) fortune – though his lawyer asserted that it was merely 10 billion and Yoo voiced his willingness to donate his entire W10 billion estate due to his deep sorrow for those who lost their lives aboard the Sewol.” Wow. What a stand up guy.

Company Shareholders

  1. There were 20 organizations affiliated with CheongHaeJin
  2. I-ONE-I Holdings → owns ChonHaeJi → owns CheongHaeJin → owned the Sewol
  3. Yoo’s two eldest sons held 19.44% of the shares of I-ONE-I… or was it 38.88% of the shares? – and Yoo’s wife owned 6.29%
  4. CheongHaeJin shares = 39.4% from ChonHaeJi, 11.6% from the company President, and 7.1% from I-ONE-I Holdings
  5. LOADS of info on the various Shareholders and holdings here

He was originally sought for questioning about the sinking and the company’s apparent disregard of Maritime Law and safety regulations (the Sewol was overloaded with 3x the amount of cargo it should have had – 3,608 tons vs. 987 tons it should have had).

Now, he is also wanted on charges of professional negligence, embezzlement, and tax evasion.

This wouldn’t be the first time to be charged with these things either. He was previously convicted of “habitual fraud under the mask of religion” in 1992 and served 4 years in prison. He had collected “donations” from his church members in the amount of 1.2 billion won ($1.15 million USD) and funneled it into his companies.

Here’s something interesting to note: He used CheonHaeJin Ltd to basically resurrect his bankrupt Semo Group under a new name and get the debts (300 billion won – $294 million USD) written off.

#2: AHAE – Photographer and Artist


Yoo Byeong-Eon is also apparently a “Master Photography Wizard” (here’s a link to the original “he’s super-awesome” profile on his Ahae homepage – before it was removed – now back online) for various feats that he’s accomplished as a photographer. He was unknown as a photographer in Korea before the 1990s:

  1. He apparently spent 4 years taking 2.6 million photos from a SINGLE window in his house in Seoul (which actually it seems was in his cult’s compound). His feat amounts to taking more than one photo per minute for the entire 4 years (there are only 2,102,400 minutes in 4 years).
  2. He purchased the entire abandoned French village of Courbefy, France to “set it up as an environmental, artistic, and cultural project.”
  3. He’s had his works displayed in the Louvre Museum and the Palace of Versailles – although his artistic integrity is in question – as the author of that article wrote:

Anyone living in or visiting Paris at the time was bombarded with advertisements everywhere–on billboards, buses, in the métro, in newspapers and magazines. With all the blockbuster art exhibitions which have come through Paris over the years I’ve lived here, I have never seen such a publicity blitz as I saw for the Ahae exhibit linked to the Louvre Museum.

As an artist and photographer seeing such a media and marketing blitz for an unknown, and inexperienced but wealthy photographer such as Ahae, it inevitably leaves a bitter taste.


And of his work, the Financial Times wrote:

The scene that is the subject of Ahae’s images looks, on the face of it, pretty unremarkable. A couple of murky ponds sit in a field which backs on to a fairly uninteresting looking wood. But such is the focus of Ahae’s gaze that the viewer comes to know the fauna on the patch – from the fierce great tits who stare defiantly into the camera to the thuggish magpies and the beleaguered egrets and herons who bow to assaults by their neighbours like ageing professors hounded by skinheads.

The Money

  1. 1.1 million ($1.5 million USD): The Louvre
  2. Commissioned for Louvre exhibition: British composer Michael Nyman to write a piano quintet titled “Through the Only Window” 
  3. 1.4 million ($1.9 million USD): The Bosquet du Théâtre d’Eau (Water Theatre Grove) at The Palace of Versailles (he’s the sole patron)
  4. Commissioned for Versailles exhibition: Michael Nyman again – to write a 32-minute long symphony in four movements (representing the four seasons in nature as depicted by Ahae): Symphony No. 6 “AHAE”
  5. Commissioned for Versailles exhibition: French composer Nicolas Bacri to write a 29-minutes long symphonic piece, his opus 130 titled “Ahae’s Day (Four Images for Orchestra)”.
  6. Hired for Versailles exhibition: The London Symphony Orchestra to premiere both pieces at L’Opéra of the Palace of Versailles in Paris on 8 September 2013.
  7. €520,000 ($663,000 USD): To purchase the abandoned village of Courbefy, France
  8. €10,000 ($13,640 USD): Festival des forêts, a forest music festival in Compiègne, France
  9. €400 ($521 USD): Safety training for the entire organization that ran the Sewol in 2012…

Other Ventures

  1. He and his family own 30 businesses – 13 of which do business overseas
  2. He and his affiliates own many expensive web properties including among others
  3. He owns a plantation in the US called 123Farm and owns part of the Highland Springs Resort on which the plantation is located (and was chairman of the board of the company that bought the Resort)
  4. He holds multiple patents including for the Colonic Irrigation System

Immortalized in Stone in the Louvre,776.html,776.html

Recently, it has come to light that as a “great patron” and investor in the Louvre museum, his name has been engraved in stone in the museum. However, it seems that some people are finally wising up. Here are some quotes from some French sources:

La Croix newspaper: “This businessman with a murky past had used his fortune to exhibit at The Louvre. … The crew [of the Sewol] was mainly made up of followers of the church of Yoo; temporary, often renewed and who were unfamiliar with their ship. The investigation also revealed that the owner had only spent [541,000 won ($521; €400) on crew training, including evacuation drills] for its employees in 2013. Its wealthy owner had other priorities … he used his fortune to organize worldwide exhibitions of his landscape photographs.”

France Info: “In the Tuileries as at Versailles Ahae himself had financed his own exhibitions. … In 2013, the company spent $500 in costs for training their crews, an amount that pales in comparison to the wealth of the owner of the shipping company. However, one of the main causes of the tragedy was precisely the total lack of preparation of the crew in case of disaster.”

And what exactly does his name “AHAE” mean?

Apparently, it means “child” in old Korean. But also, according to one source, the name is derived from “Yahweh” in the Bible. And this is where we fall further down the Rabbit Hole.


#3: Guwonpa Cult Leader/Pastor
  1. More than 90% of the employees of CheonHaeJin were members of Guwonpa – including the captain of the Sewol and Yoo himself.
  2. He was a pastor of the cult and wrote various books – and accused of forcing cult members to invest in his companies
  3. In 1987, he was investigated for his part in a 33-person murder-suicide involving cult members. He was cleared of charges specifically related to the murder-suicide, but later served 4 years in prison for fraud related to that cult.
  4. His father-in-law formed the original cult in the 1960s

Factions of the Salvation Church (Guwonpa)

  1. IYF/The Good News Baptists – led by Park Ock-Soo
  2. Salvation Sect/Evangelical Baptist Church – led by Yoo Byeong-Eon
  3. Kwon Shin-Chan’s faction (Yoo’s deceased father-in-law)

Why this is Crazy

Beyond the fact(s) that:

  1. Yoo was already convicted of fraud and using religious tithes to further his own businesses – and served 4 years in jail for it
  2. Yoo is thought to have forced cult members to invest in his companies again now
  3. Church tithing in Korea is such a SERIOUS thing that you can be socially ostracized for not doing it (personal experience) – and cults are worse about it

Here are 7 more reasons why Yoo’s cult connection is crazy:

Pics of the Compound (with over 80 Subway cars!)


The Great Escape

Yoo has been on the run now for nearly a month. It’s actually amazing how well this 73-year old has been able to evade the nationwide (and international) manhunt. Here are a few articles online describing the help he’s received and the progress of the hunt:

  1. Thought to be in Suncheon – bag with fingerprints found, as well as a woman who struggled with police
  2. Getaway car found in JEONJU
  3. Son thought to be in Daegu
  4. Fugitive thought to be armed
  5. The investigation might have a mole (or they just suck at keeping things quiet. Hint: don’t inform the newspapers of upcoming, potential raids…)

The prosecution has even released altered photos to show what the Yoo and his eldest son might look like if disguised:

However, due to his avoidance of capture and the large reward money, the prosecution are also now facing the problem of false reports of having seen Yoo.

I guess people are just really eager to get him into custody, and really hopeful about getting a piece of that money. But, be aware that false reports may lead to criminal fines.

Keep up to date with Wikipedia & JMS Cult

I’ve been incredibly impressed over the last few weeks with just how rapidly Wikipedia has been getting updated with the latest news of Ahae, Yoo Byeon-Eon, the Sewol, and the search. Many of the links in this article come from there, and some come from the JMS Cult Forum pages related to this event. These are the two best resources for updat(ed/ing) information.

  1. Wikipedia: Yoo Byeon-Eon
  2. Wikipedia: Sewol
  3. JMS Cult Forum on the Sewol and the Salvation Sect 

Other resources

Below, you can also find a collection of other resources that I saved in order to write this article (some of which I still haven’t had a chance to review yet).

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