Fugitive's body identified
SOUTH Korean police said yesterday that a badly decomposed body found last month had been identified as that of the fugitive tycoon whose family owned the ferry which sank in April, with the loss of about 300 lives.
Yoo Byung Eun had been the target of an unprecedented, months-long manhunt involving tens of thousands of police officers and army troops.
The body was found on June 12, lying in a field just outside the city of Suncheon, 300km south of Seoul.
Discovered by a local resident, it was in an advanced stage of decomposition and the match was made only after a DNA test.
After weeks of technical treatment, forensic experts eventually managed to lift a print from one of the index fingers, confirming Yoo's identity.
Suncheon police chief Woo Hyung Ho told reporters the body was too decomposed to ascertain the cause of death, although several empty bottles of alcohol were found at the scene. "We do not know yet whether it was a homicide or a suicide," Mr Woo said.
"We are hoping that more detailed forensic analysis will shed light on this and on the exact time of death," he said, adding that a toxicology test was being carried out.
The police had been widely criticised for failing to capture Yoo, and Mr Woo acknowledged that investigators had also been slow in establishing that the body was the fugitive businessman's.
It was found just a few kilometres from a villa Yoo was known to have used, and next to the corpse was a bag containing an autobiography that he had written in prison in the 1990s.
"We admit that...the investigations on his belongings were imperfect," Mr Woo said.
"We could have identified him far earlier if we had worked more actively," he added.
Mr Woo's frankness was apparently not appreciated by his superiors, and shortly after the press briefing, it was announced that he had been removed from his post as police chief.
Yoo was the patriarch of the family behind Chonghaejin Marine Company, which owned and operated the Sewol ferry that sank on April 16 with 476 people on board, including 325 high-school children.
The number of confirmed fatalities currently stands at 294, with 10 victims still unaccounted for.