The justice minister apologized Thursday for a botched national manhunt for the fugitive owner of the ferry Sewol that sank off the southwestern coast in April, leaving more than 300 people dead or missing.
The body of Yoo Byung-eun, a 73-year-old billionaire who owned Sewol operator Chonghaejin Marine Co., was found last month at a plum farm on the south coast. But police identified it as that of Yoo only on Monday, drawing sharp criticism over the belated confirmation.
"I express my sincere apology to the nation that Yoo, who has been hunted for, was found dead," Justice Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn told a meeting of the parliament's legislation committee.
"(Investigators) made all their efforts to arrest the fugitive Yoo and punish him severely. But despite such efforts, Yoo was found long before," the minister noted.
Yoo's body had been left unidentified for a long period of time, the minister said, adding that "I again extend my words of apology for that."
He also vowed efforts to find the exact cause of the ferry owner's death as well as punish those who are responsible for the botched manhunt.
The ministry will direct the prosecution to arrest the fugitive family members of Yoo and his close aides, he added.
The chief of the National Police Agency, Lee Sung-han, also apologized for the manhunt failure in a separate meeting of the parliamentary security and public affairs committee.
"I received the DNA test result on Monday that the unidentified body found on June 22 was that of Yoo. I am sorry for the inadequacy in the initial response (to the body's finding)," Lee said.
The ruling Saenuri Party vowed punitive action against the prosecution and the police.
Recent findings showed that the prosecution and the police tried to cover up their manhunt failure, while the insufficient inspection of Yoo's body led to a major delay in the national search operation, Saenuri Party spokesman Park Dae-chul said.
Party chairman Kim Moo-sung said after the party's senior member meeting that "I am concerned about the police and the prosecution's ways of dealing with the manhunt, which fell short of people's expectations in regard to the national investigation into the ferry accident." (Yonhap)