Doomed South Korean ferry boss's driver turns himself in

SEOUL, July 29 Mon Jul 28, 2014 10:18pm EDT

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SEOUL, July 29 (Reuters) - The driver of the South Korean businessman wanted over the sinking of a ferry that killed more than 300 people in April turned himself in on Tuesday, potentially unlocking the mystery of the man's final days after the disaster.

Prosecutors in the port city of Incheon said the driver, Yang Hoe-jung, turned himself in at their office, which is leading the investigation into the role of businessman Yoo Byung-un in the sinking of the ferry Sewol.

The structurally defective and heavily overloaded ferry capsized and sank on a routine journey on April 16, killing 304 people, 250 of them teenagers from the same school on a class field trip. Twelve of their teachers were also killed.

The trial of 15 surviving crew members, including the captain, resumed on Monday with evidence from some of the 75 teenagers who survived South Korea's worst maritime disaster.

The crew members face charges ranging from homicide to negligence for abandoning the ship after telling passengers, including the teenage students, to remain on board.

Yang is thought by authorities to have been with Yoo, the head of a family that ran a network of companies that included the ferry operator, in the days before his body was found by a farmer at an orchard on June 12.

Police only identified the badly decomposed body as that of Yoo last week, although an autopsy and other extensive testing failed to indicate how he died or came to be in the orchard, forensic experts have said.

The driver Yang was the last among a group of people close to Yoo who had been wanted for allegedly helping him elude South Korea's biggest manhunt.

Yoo was accused of a range of questionable activities that included embezzlement and negligence that prosecutors believe led to the ferry disaster.

A reward of 500 million won ($488,000) had been posted for information leading to his arrest, the largest possible amount under South Korean criminal law.

Yoo's wife, brother and oldest son have been arrested but his younger son remains at large and is believed to be in the United States.

A senior prosecutor has said efforts have been made to work with U.S. law enforcement authorities to capture Yoo Hyuck-ki, who was considered Yoo's heir-apparent.

Some of the surviving children who testified at the trial on Monday said there was little help from coast guard rescuers who arrived at the scene as they scrambled out of the sinking ferry, with many of their classmates still trapped inside. ($1 = 1025.2000 Korean Won) (Reporting by Ju-min Park; Writing by Jack Kim; Editing by Paul Tait)

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