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SEWOL DISASTER: Ferry owner’s demise won’t end tragedy
Publication Date : 25-07-2014
The chief of the Incheon prosecution investigating the Sewol ferry disaster resigned Thursday, holding himself responsible for the bungled search for Yoo Byung-eon, the de facto leader of the ferry company.
In view of law enforcement authorities’ actions over the past months, however, the resignation of a senior local prosecutor is unlikely to do much to soothe the public frustration.
Choi Jae-kyung’s resignation came one day after the prosecution belatedly disclosed that Yoo was hiding in a secret closet of a villa in Suncheon, South Jeolla Province, when investigators raided it on May 25. They did not even know that Yoo was there until one of his aides confessed about one month later. Searching the villa again, they found 830 million won and US$160,000 in cash in another closet of the villa.
It is lamentable that investigators could and should have nabbed Yoo at the time and prevented his death. Also upsetting is that the prosecution disclosed what happened on the day of their initial raid and the second search only after they confirmed the death of the fugitive tycoon Monday.
This embarrassing revelation followed the belated identification of Yoo’s body, which has become a hot-button social issue and subject of numerous rumors. What the police and prosecution had done since Yoo’s body was found 42 days before the announcement of the identification is dumbfounding.
The body of the 73-year-old Yoo was found by a farmer in a plum orchard in Suncheon on June 12. The local police, however, dismissed it as that of a homeless person or wanderer even though there were plenty of clues to the identity of the body.
First of all, the body was believed to be that of a man in his 70s, and it was found just 2.5 kilometres from the villa, where the wanted man had been hiding.
At the time of the discovery, Yoo was wearing an Italian luxury brand windbreaker. There were belongings that could be linked to him ― a bag on which the title of a book he authored is inscribed and a bottle of shark liver oil product made by one of the companies owned by Yoo.
It is incomprehensible that none of the police officers who inspected the body and belongings thought about the possible connection to the man for whom their colleagues and the entire nation had been desperately searching.
Yoo’s death ended a months-long massive nationwide manhunt. But for the prosecution, the real work should start now. Authorities must investigate the Yoo family’s role in the company that ran the Sewol ferry and make them reimburse the expenses incurred by the rescue and search operations and provide compensation for the victims.
With Yoo gone, this task will be more challenging, which is why it is more important to find the remaining members of his family, including the tycoon’s eldest son who is believed to be in the country.
That would be the least the prosecution could do to make up for its botched probe so far and salvage its reputation.