Sunday 26 March 2017

Sunken ferry owner's son detained

Lee Han-young of the South Korea National Forensic Service briefs the media in Seoul (AP)
Lee Han-young of the South Korea National Forensic Service briefs the media in Seoul (AP)

South Korean police have detained the eldest son of the sunken ferry owner after two months on the run, three days after his billionaire father was confirmed dead.

Yoo Dae-gyun was picked up from an office south of Seoul along with a woman accused of helping his fugitive life, Incheon Metropolitan Police Agency said.

Yoo is a major shareholder in Chonghaejin Marine Co, the operator of the ferry that sank in April. His father, Yoo Byung-eun, had founded the predecessor of Chonghaejin.

For months, authorities had sought the two saying embezzlement and other alleged corruption by the Yoo family may have contributed to the April 16 disaster that left 294 people dead and 10 still missing. Most of the victims were high school students.

The body of the elder Yoo, 73, was discovered in a southern rural area by a resident on June 12. But it was mistaken as a homeless man's despite nearby clues to its identity, and authorities continued their massive manhunt for more than a month, raising public criticism about ineptness of police and prosecutors.

DNA testing confirmed the body was that of the elder Yoo late on Tuesday, and the National Forensic Service, South Korea's state-run forensic lab, said today that due to decomposition, it could not determine the cause of his death.

Authorities did not even suspect the body could be Yoo's until recently - even though his body was found near a villa police raided in May and items found near the remains could have offered clues about his identity. DNA tests 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 lawmakers and media called for higher level officials to also step down.

The forensic service's chief Seo Joongseok and other experts 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 evidence Yoo was killed.

The main liberal opposition party said the announcement failed to resolve rampant speculation on Yoo's death. 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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