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Justice chief pressured to quit

Chauffeur, female aide believed to hold key to cause of Yoo’s death

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Published : 2014-07-24 21:48
Updated : 2014-07-25 02:18

The justice minister and chiefs of the two major law enforcement agencies have been pressured to step down from their posts for failing to capture the runaway Yoo Byung-eun, owner of the sunken ferry Sewol, alive.

On Thursday, two days after police confirmed Yoo’s death, Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office head Choi Jae-kyung tendered his resignation to the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office.

Lawmakers say that Choi’s superiors should also be held accountable. Among the targeted officials are Justice Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, Prosecutor General Kim Jin-tae and National Police Agency Commissioner General Lee Sung-han.
Justice Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn

During a meeting of the National Assembly’s legislation committee the same day, Minister Hwang apologized to the public for failing to arrest the irregularity-saddled Yoo alive.

The presidential office is likely to determine the fate of Hwang, Kim and Lee after the National Forensic Service announces the cause of the 73-year-old Yoo’s death. His body was found by a farmer in South Jeolla Province on June 12.

The forensic service and police have summoned the former family dentist of Yoo to reconfirm the body’s identification via an examination of the oral cavity and teeth.

While the state forensic agency is poised to unveil the cause of Yoo’s death on the basis of its DNA test and autopsy on the corpse on Friday, pundits stress that it is urgent for investigators to arrest the Sewol owner’s two aides ― chauffeur Yang Hoi-jeong and female follower Kim Myung-sook ― to clear up a variety of allegations surrounding his death.

Yang and Kim, both in their 50s, are suspected of having sheltered Yoo after the April 16 sinking catastrophe.

Lawyer Kang Min-koo alleged that Yoo was not alone right before he died. “Someone might have been beside him when Yoo died. Or someone could have moved his dead body to the farm (in Suncheon),” he told a TV news provider on Thursday.

Central Police Academy professor Kim Bok-joon shared the view that Yoo’s regular chauffeur Yang may hold the key to revealing the exact cause of his death. Kim also focused on the fact that the female aide Shin Myung-hee, 64, gave herself up to the prosecution on June 13 ― only one day after Yoo’s body was discovered.

Shin had been known to be one of Yoo’s two confidantes,along with the 59-year-old Kim Myung-sook.

In the meantime, Rep. Park Jie-won of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy raised the fresh allegation that Yoo’s dead body was not in fact discovered on June 12.

Lawmaker Park cited recorded testimonies of several residents around the farm, who claimed that the body was initially found “someday in April.”

His remarks at the National Assembly are expected to have a ripple effect on the ongoing investigation of the prosecution and police, as citizens cast doubts about the heavy decay of the body in a relatively short period.

Earlier in the day, the police agency said it had secured a pair of glasses near the farm where Yoo’s body was found, adding that they could be Yoo’s.

But a former aide of the ferry owner downplayed on a TV program the possibility that the glasses were Yoo’s. Ex-Semo Shipping captain Huh Jung-moo said that “Yoo’s eyesight was not bad. He could live without glasses.” He added that the glasses obtained by the police could have been used as part of the fugitive’s disguise if they were Yoo’s.

The Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office said Wednesday that Yoo was hiding inside a small closet when investigators stormed his vacation home in Suncheon, South Jeolla Province, on May 25.

Some observers including former devotees of the Salvation Sect, which was led by Yoo, predicted that Yoo’s second son, Hyuk-kee, could succeed his father as head of the religious group.

The 42-year-old Yoo Hyuk-kee, who has American citizenship and is known as Keith H. Yoo, is reportedly residing in the United States.

Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office chief Choi, who offered to quit on Thursday, rejected the same resignation offer from Kim Hoi-jong, who has been in charge of the Yoo Byung-eun probe as the No. 3 figure of the Incheon office.

Senior prosecutor Kim Hoi-jong and his extraordinary investigation team have been ordered to verify the remaining allegations through further probes into Yoo’s family and aides.

By Kim Yon-se (kys@heraldcorp.com)

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