Saturday 29 November 2014

Mystery over how ferry owner died

*Yoo's body too badly decomposed to determine cause of death
* Mystery surrounding final days of de-factor owner of doomed ferry deepens

Published 25/07/2014 | 12:32

A poster at Seoul train station offers a reward to find billionaire Yoo Byung-eun (AP)
A poster at Seoul train station offered a reward to find billionaire Yoo Byung-eun (AP)
The Republic of Korea Coast Guard work at the site of ferry sinking accident off the coast of Jindo Island in Jindo-gun, South Korea. Four people are confirmed dead and almost 300 are reported missing. The ferry identified as the Sewol is reported to have been carrying around 470 passengers, including students and teachers, as it travelled to Jeju island.
Lee Han-young of the South Korea National Forensic Service briefs the media in Seoul (AP)

South Korea's state-run forensic lab said Friday it has failed to determine the cause of death for a fugitive billionaire blamed for April's ferry disaster.

The admission came amid mounting public criticism that authorities did not identify his body for a long time and still continued a massive manhunt for him.

Police said on Tuesday that a badly decomposed body found in a southern rural area on June 12 was identified as Yoo Byung-eun.

Police cited DNA and fingerprints taken by the National Forensic Service.

Authorities had sought the 73-year-old, believing he was the real owner of the sunken ferry's company and that his alleged corruption may have contributed to the April 16 disaster that left more than 300 people dead, mostly high school students travelling to a southern resort island.

The news quickly fuelled public indignation following revelations authorities did not even suspect the body could be Yoo's until recently.

They had still continued large-scale manhunts for him -even though his body was found near one of his villas that was raided in May and items found near the remains could have offered clues about his identity.

DNA tests on Yoo's body took about 40 days and critics say officials could have done it sooner if they suspected it was him.

Prosecutors later admitted that Yoo's detained secretary told investigators her boss was hidden behind a wall on the second floor during the May 25 search of his villa.

A high-level prosecutor resigned and two senior police officers were dismissed, but South Korean opposition politicians and media called for higher level officials to also step down.

Today, the forensic service said that it has conducted additional tests on Yoo's body but could not establish the exact cause of death because the body had decayed too much.

Agency chief Seo Joongseok and other forensic doctors told a televised news conference that they did not find any evidence showing that Yoo was poisoned, suffocated or died of external pressures or any disease.

Police have said they have not found any evidences that Yoo was killed.

The main liberal opposition party quickly criticised the announcement, saying it failed to resolve rampant speculation on Yoo's death.

It came as the conservative government of President Park Geun-hye has already faced public indignation over its handling of the sinking.

Press Association

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