National Forensic Service says it wants to stay put

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National Forensic Service says it wants to stay put

Forensic investigators in Seoul will likely not have to drive all the way to Wonju, Gangwon, where the government had planned to move the National Forensic Service (NFS), to perform autopsies and conduct other time-sensitive scientific analyses.

Officials from the NFS, in charge of the country’s forensic investigations including suspicious deaths, told the JoongAng Ilbo that it now wants to keep much of its forensic services in Seoul and only conduct research in Wonju, located 150 kilometers (93 miles) away from the capital.

The NFS had been one of the agencies designated by the government to move to Wonju in line with the previous administration’s initiative to promote balanced development across the country. The agency was scheduled to move to Wonju starting next year.

The change of mind comes after a JoongAng Ilbo article last month reported that the planned move could cause significant disruptions for the NFS, with more than 50 percent of cases requiring autopsies occurring in Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi.

The NFS says 153,434 cases were handled in Seoul last year, compared to 15,440 in Wonju.

Relocating to Wonju, the NFS said, would be a waste of taxpayers’ money as well as a waste of time.

“We are now studying who [among our workforce] to leave in Seoul and who to send to Wonju,” an NFS official said. “The principle is to leave most of the workforce for pathology services dealing with autopsies, fires and traffic accidents in Seoul.”

After the JoongAng Ilbo report, the Blue House requested a progress report from the NFS on its relocation plan. The NFS then tentatively decided against the planned relocation after meeting with the Ministry of Public Administration and Security, which oversees the NFS, and the National Police Agency on July 29.

The decision to stay in Seoul will not be finalized until given approval by the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs, which directs the government’s balanced development initiative. The NFS plans to meet with the ministry sometime this month to finalize the revised plan.

While the Land Ministry is believed to be sympathetic to the reasons provided by the NFS to remain in Seoul, it has been reported that the ministry is moving cautiously to see how other government agencies ordered to relocate will react.

Two scientists who recently joined the NFS said last week that they have performed about 300 autopsies since coming on to the agency on April 25.

Gyeong Hi-eun and Jeong Ha-rin, both 30, said many NFS employees were concerned that moving to Wonju could delay autopsies, which are time sensitive and could make or break a homicide case.

In one recent case, Gyeong said a woman who was assumed to have died of natural causes was found to have internal bleeding near her neck in an autopsy. Police are now investigating her death as a possible strangulation.

“There are many bodies disguised to make it seem like they died of natural causes,” Gyeong said. “I find my job to be rewarding when I help dig up the truth in murder cases and when I can help provide the truth to the bereaved families.”

Even if it keeps its pathology services in Seoul, the NFS said it is still concerned that even a partial relocation could decrease its workforce.

The Korea Food and Drug Administration, which moved to North Chungcheong last year under the same government initiative, lost 208 employees after they resigned before relocating.

The NFS hoped to increase its payroll to prevent a possible staffing vacuum, an official said.


By Park Sung-woo, Kim Hyo-eun [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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