Body of fugitive S.Korea ferry businessman found

Tue 22 Jul 2014 at 09:02

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NNA – A body found more than a month ago in a South Korean plum orchard has been identified by authorities as that of a businessman who headed the family that owned the operator of a ferry that capsized in April, killing more than 300 people, Reuters said.

Police told reporters on Tuesday that DNA and fingerprint evidence from the body found on June 12 in the south of the country showed it to be that of Yoo Byung-un, the target of South Korea’s largest manhunt for more than two months.

Failure of authorities to apprehend Yoo had become a further political headache for President Park Geun-hye, whose government came under heavy criticism for its handling of the ferry disaster in which most of the victims were children.

The Sewol’s 15 surviving crew members, including the captain, are on trial on charges ranging from homicide to negligence. The disaster prompted an outpouring of grief and anger after some crew were caught on video abandoning ship while children, following instructions, stayed in their cabins.

Yoo, 73, who was also a photographer and co-founded a church, was accused of embezzlement, negligence and tax evasion. Authorities had offered a reward equivalent to nearly half a million dollars and had arrested several of Yoo’s family members.

Woo Hyung-ho, police chief in Suncheon, told a televised news conference in the small southern city that a book written by Yoo was found at the site, along with an empty bottle of a shark liver oil product made by a Yoo family company. He said that the police could have conducted forensic tests more quickly had they immediately identified the two items.

“We didn’t know at that time it was a book written by Yoo,” Woo said. “We admit we were not perfect.” Another police official said the announcement had been delayed as forensic investigation on DNA takes 40 days.

The time of death was unclear as the body had decayed by more than 80 percent. The body was transferred early on Tuesday from Suncheon to the National Forensic Service in Seoul.

“I was roaming around the field and a person was dead … but the body was decayed,” Park Yoon-seok, a resident who found the body, told cable news network YTN. “He looked like a completely homeless person. He was lying straight with only the head turned around.”

The announcement was made less than 24 hours after prosecutors apologised for failing to capture Yoo when they announced interim results of their investigation into the country’s worst maritime disaster in 20 years.

They made no mention on Monday that a body suspected of being Yoo’s had been found. Also on Monday, a court issued a fresh arrest warrant for Yoo, as an earlier warrant had been due to lapse.

Prosecutors in Incheon, west of Seoul, who are leading the investigation into the Yoo family, said their probe would continue. “Whether Yoo Byung-un is dead or not, we will proceed with the investigation,” they said in a statement.

Police said toxicology tests were underway and that the death did not appear to have been caused by foul play.

In their hunt for Yoo, police had searched organic farms and retreats belonging to Yoo and his Evangelical Baptist Church and arrested church members on suspicion of helping Yoo escape. The church denied the allegations.

The book found near the body, titled “Greater Love has No One Than This”, was written in 1995 while Yoo was serving four years in prison for fraud.

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