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Seoul officials yet to face consequences for Itaewon crowd crush

By Yoon Min-sik

Published : July 26, 2023 - 15:40

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The bereaved families of those who lost their lives in the Itaewon crowd crush on Oct. 29, 2022, hold a press conference Tuesday demanding that Interior Minister Lee Sang-min be removed from his duties. (Yonhap) The bereaved families of those who lost their lives in the Itaewon crowd crush on Oct. 29, 2022, hold a press conference Tuesday demanding that Interior Minister Lee Sang-min be removed from his duties. (Yonhap)

Eight months after the deadly Halloween crowd crush in Itaewon, none of the officials in charge of the situation at the time has faced legal punishment, with investigations and trials still ongoing.

On Tuesday, the Constitutional Court dismissed impeachment of Interior Minister Lee Sang-min, rejecting the National Assembly's request to remove him over the crowd crush that left 159 dead.

Police investigating the incident had earlier decided not to seek criminal charges against him.

The trials for the police and local government officials in charge that day has yet to reach a conclusion six months after they were indicted in January. All of them have been released, with their six-month detention period expired recently, and one defendant -- Yongsan Ward Office Park Hee-young -- has even returned to her post.

The police investigation on the incident has referred 23 officials for prosecution, including Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency Chief Kim Kwang-ho, but most of them -- including Kim -- have not yet been charged. Only five police officials and four Yongsan-gu ward officials have been indicted so far.

Seven people, including Kim and Choi Seong-boem, the chief of the Yongsan Fire Station, are still being investigated by the prosecutors while retaining their posts. Ryu Mi-jin, the former senior emergency monitoring officer at the SMPA who was not at her post at the time of the incident, are among those who prosecutors have yet to make a decision on.

The two former police officials who were released from detention last month were Park Sung-min and Kim Jin-ho, intelligence officers who are accused of instructing their subordinates to destroy internal reports warning of the dangers posed by expected crowds in Itaewon on Halloween.

While dismissing the impeachment for Minister Lee, Constitutional Court said the responsibility for Itaewon tragedy does not lie within a single person.

But with police investigation already clearing Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon and National Police Agency chief Yoon Hee-keun of responsibility, it is unclear if any government officials will be held criminally responsible for the lackluster response from police and the regional government in one of the worst tragedies in recent years.

In addition to government officials, the 76-year-old head of the Hamilton Hotel is also being tried for building an illegal structure in the street where the disaster occurred.