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SEWOL DISASTER: Korean police confirm ferry owner's death

Publication Date : 22-07-2014


Korean police confirmed Tuesday that a dead body, found by a farmer in a city in South Jeolla Province on June 12, is that of Yoo Byung-eun, owner of the capsized ferry Sewol.

Investigators identified the body though fingerprint comparison and DNA samples, Suncheon Police Station chief Woo Hyung-ho told a news briefing.

Woo said the fingerprints match those of the 73-year-old fugitive and DNA samples approximately match those of his older brother, Byung-il. The older Yoo had been taken into custody for allegedly pocketing funds from affiliates of Chonghaejin Marine Co., the operator of the ill-fated ferry.

Woo admitted that the police had been somewhat negligent in investigating the body when the plum field owner notified the investigative agency about the body in early June.

Though the corpse was delivered to a hospital in Suncheon right after the farmer reported it, a lock of hair from the remains was found to have been left in the field for more than a month, during which time police allegedly failed to identify the body due to heavy decay.

Police and the prosecution said they are waiting for the final results from the National Forensic Service, which is conducting a DNA test on the body.

Investigators at that time sent DNA samples from the body to the state forensic agency in an ordinary manner to identify the corpse.

Insiders raised the possibility that investigators may have regarded the body as that of an elderly resident from the provincial district.

Investigators had reportedly told the plum farm owner that the body “seemed to be an ordinary homeless person.”

But law enforcement agencies -- reportedly unexpectedly -- were informed by the National Forensic Service late Monday that the body could be that of Yoo.

On early Tuesday, the hospital handed over the corpse to the Seoul unit of the National Forensic Service, whose headquarters are located in Wonju, Gangwon Province.

“Should the forensic agency further reiterate its research position that the body is Yoo, the prosecution is expected to halt its full-fledged effort to indict him,” an investigator said.

Some netizens are denouncing the prosecution for not securing the body immediately after it was found by the farm owner in early June. The prosecution, which saw the initial warrant for Yoo expire, again asked the Incheon District Court to issue a second arrest warrant on Monday, vowing to capture him in the coming months.

Yoo has been suspected of overlooking the risks of overloading the Sewol vessel with freight early this year, even though the ferry had a weakened ability to recover left-and-right balance when turning, due to a renovation that added more cabins to the vessel.

The irregularity-saddled business tycoon escaped after the April 16 sinking disaster.


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