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South Korea Police: Body of Fugitive Ferry Owner Found

  • VOA News

A man watches a TV news program on the reward poster of Yoo Byung-un at the Seoul Train Station in South Korea, May 26, 2014.

A man watches a TV news program on the reward poster of Yoo Byung-un at the Seoul Train Station in South Korea, May 26, 2014.

South Korean police said on Tuesday that a body found last month in the south of the country was that of a fugitive businessman who headed the family that owned the operator of a ferry that capsized in April, killing more than 300 people, many of them high school students.

Police said a badly decomposed body found lying in a field near the city of Suncheon on June 12 had been identified by DNA evidence as well as fingerprints as that of Yoo Byung-un, the subject of the country's largest manhunt.

Yoo was the patriarch of the family behind Chonghaejin Marine Co., which owned and operated the Sewol ferry. It sank on April 16 with 476 people on board, including 325 high school children.

He was accused of embezzlement, negligence and tax evasion.

Yoo had been the target of an unprecedented, months-long manhunt involving tens of thousands of police officers and army troops who set up checkpoints on roads and at ports. They raided a number of properties linked to the reclusive billionaire.

A summons was issued for Yoo shortly after the ferry sank, but he refused to surrender to police and eventually went on the run.

A reward of 500 million won ($490,000) was offered for information leading to his capture, and 100 million won for that of his eldest son, Yoo Dae-Kyun. He is still at large.

Many of Yoo's family members have been arrested, including his wife and his brother. A daughter is fighting an extradition bid from Paris.

No cause of death

Suncheon police chief Woo Hyung-Ho said at a news conference that the body found last month was too decomposed to ascertain the cause of death, although several empty bottles of alcohol were found at the scene. A book written by Yoo was also found nearby.

Police said the announcement had been delayed as forensic investigation on DNA takes 40 days, but acknowledged that the probe "wasn't perfect" given the items found next to the body.

The body was transferred from Suncheon to the National Forensic Service in Seoul.

The announcement came less than 24 hours after prosecutors apologized 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.

The sinking, one of South Korea's deadliest disasters in decades, has caused an outpouring of national grief, and the country is undergoing national soul searching about public safety. About 100 days after the disaster, 294 dead bodies have been retrieved but 10 people are still missing.

Some information for this report provided by Reuters, AFP and AP.

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