Botched hunt for Yoo claims some bigshot scalps

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Botched hunt for Yoo claims some bigshot scalps

The utterly botched manhunt for the patriarch of the family behind the sinking of the Sewol ferry in April is claiming heads.

But even as top figures offer resignations to atone for the incompetence, Korea is awash in disbelief over every new revelation, and conspiracy theories about what really happened to the 73-year-old ferry owner Yoo Byung-eun are in full force.

A decomposed body found on June 12 in an orchard near Yoo’s villa in South Jeolla was proclaimed to be his on Tuesday. On Wednesday, prosecutors revealed that when they searched the villa on May 25, Yoo was hidden behind a wall on the second floor. They also disclosed Wednesday that they had discovered 1 billion won ($976,000) in the villa in a new search this week.

The senior prosecutor leading the investigations into Yoo and the ferry’s sinking resigned yesterday for bungling both of them.

Choi Jae-kyung, chief of the Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office, notified Prosecutor General Kim Jin-tae of his resignation. His move follows the dismissals of two high-ranking policemen: Jeong Soon-do, head of the South Jeolla Provincial Police Agency, and Woo Hyung-ho, chief of Suncheon Police Station.

Yoo’s body was found in Suncheon, South Jeolla. The local police was responsible for not recognizing Yoo’s body when it was found.

“I’d like to take responsibility for all the mistakes and ineffectiveness in the investigation into the Sewol ferry disaster,” Choi said yesterday.

In a new search of the area in which Yoo’s remains were found June 12, police yesterday found a pair of spectacles 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles) away from the orchard where Yoo was found and 500 meters away from Yoo’s vacation villa.

Investigators have said the businessman and religious sect leader always wore glasses, but refrained from concluding whether the spectacles recovered were indeed Yoo’s.

“We will do a thorough examination to determine whether Yoo actually carried the spectacles,” said Kwak Moon-joon, a sergeant in the Suncheon Police Department.

Compounding the matter for authorities, a photo of the heavily decomposed body of Yoo was leaked on Wednesday. The photo went viral through portal websites and mobile instant messengers, prompting the police to launch an investigation into the person who leaked the photo.

“The leaked photo is part of the investigative filings by police,” admitted an official of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, who requested anonymity. “The cyber crime division of the Seoul Police Agency is going after the leaker.”

The photo further fueled controversy and conspiracy theories. The corpse in the picture was severely decayed, with flesh almost rotten away and no hair.

Given that Yoo was alive until May 25, according to the secretary who told him to hide in the villa during the manhunt that day, the public wondered how the condition of the body could have decomposed so badly by June 12, when it was found.

In response to a tsunami of criticism of police and prosecutors, the justice minister apologized while being grilled by both the ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy.

“I convey my genuine regret to the nation and people that Yoo, who was being pursued, was found dead,” Justice Minister Hwang Kyo-an said at a meeting of the parliament’s legislation committee.

“I am really worried about the police and the prosecution’s ability to carry out the manhunt, which fell short of the people’s expectations,” Saenuri Party Chairman Kim Moo-sung said.

The opposition party was tougher in chastising law enforcement agencies, demanding more resignations.

“I’d like to ask Hwang if he is willing to suggest the dismissal of the prosecutor general and the chief of the National Police Agency,” said Representative Park Ji-won of the NPAD during the meeting, “You need to resign as well.”

The justice minister skirted that demand by saying, “Our top priority now is to conduct a further investigation into Yoo’s death.”

The chief of the National Police Agency, Lee Sung-han, also apologized for the botched attempt to capture Yoo.

“I am sorry, and I admit that the initial search efforts were inadequate,” Lee said yesterday. “I think we would not have wasted resources if we put in more effort.”

The beleaguered prosecutors and police vowed to capture Yoo’s eldest son, Yoo Dae-gyun, and any close aides of Yoo who may have been with him in his last moments.

Police launched an investigation yesterday into all unidentified dead bodies to see if any of them are the remains of Yoo’s son.

The National Police Agency told local police stations to look into all unidentified corpses.

The prosecution is still holding out the hope that the son may turn himself in at Yoo’s funeral service.

BY PARK EUN-JEE [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]


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