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Body of Sewol's fugitive owner found: police

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Published : 2014-07-22 10:11
Updated : 2014-07-22 10:11

Police said Tuesday that the body found last month has been confirmed to be that of the fugitive owner of the sunken ferry Sewol.

The body, discovered on June 12 in a plum field in the southern city of Suncheon, belongs to Yoo Byung-eun, the 73-year-old tycoon who owns ferry operator Chonghaejin Marine Co., they said.

"DNA samples taken from the badly decomposed body exactly matched that of Yoo," Woo Hyung-ho, chief of police agency in Sucheon, about 300 kilometers south of Seoul, told a press briefing.

"A print taken from one of right fingers also has been confirmed," Woo added.

The body's DNA matched that of a DNA sample that authorities obtained from a vacation home where Yoo had been holed up, 2.5 kilometers from where the body was found. A comparison also showed the body's DNA and that of Yoo's arrested older brother, Yoo Byung-ill, 75, sharing the same biological parents, therefore related, officials said.

At the time of the finding, the body was lying face up, wearing a winter jumper and a hat, and it was badly decomposed, police said

"There is no sign of foul play," Woo said, adding that the exact timing and cause of death were not immediately known.   

A massive manhunt has been under way for Yoo since the ferry Sewol sank on April 16, which claimed 294 lives, mostly high school students on a school trip, and left 10 people still missing.

Prosecutors suspect that corruption by Yoo and his family resulted in lax safety practices, such as cargo overloading, and created conditions that ultimately led to one of the country's worst peacetime disasters.

Authorities have been offering bounties of 500 million won (US$489,000) and 100 million won, respectively, as rewards for information leading to the capture of Yoo and his eldest son, Dae-kyun.

Many of his other family members, including his wife and elder brother, have been arrested following the ferry disaster on embezzlement charges. A daughter is fighting an extradition bid from Paris as well.

As part of efforts to locate the whereabouts of Yoo, police and prosecution officials in June raided a religious compound belonging to the Evangelical Baptist Church, in which the Yoo family remains influential members.

The church was established by Yoo's father-in-law, Kwon Sin-chan, in 1961. It is widely considered a cult with its some 20,000 followers, including most of the senior officials of Chonghaejin and its affiliates.

The church, under a different name, was also allegedly involved in a 1987 high-profile mass suicide-murder case. More than 30 people from the group were found dead, bound and gagged in a factory outside of Seoul. Investigators, however, found no evidence tying the event to Yoo.

In 1992, Yoo was sentenced to four years in prison on fraud charges. He was convicted of using church followers' money by using his status within the church.

The Evangelical Baptist Church, meanwhile, denied the police discovery, saying that the body could not have been that of Yoo.

"At the moment, we do not believe a report that the body of Yoo Byung-eun has been found," Lee Tae-jong, spokesman of the group, said in a phone interview with Yonhap News Agency.

According to the prosecution, a total of 331 people, including family members of Yoo, Sewol crewmen and Coast Guard officials, have been booked for investigation for allegedly playing roles related to the tragedy. (Yonhap)