Daegu fire suspect may have targeted lawyer in building
The man suspected of setting fire to a building housing several legal firms in the southeastern city of Daegu on Thursday had a long-running feud with a client of one of the tenants, according to court documents retrieved by the JoongAng Ilbo.
The 53-year-old suspect, who was discovered dead at the scene and only identified by the surname Cheon, was fined 2 million won ($1,536) by the Daegu District Court on Wednesday for criminal defamation against a property developer, whose lawyer had his office in the building that was set on fire.
The defamation case was not the first legal entanglement the pair had.
Cheon first filed a lawsuit against the property developer in 2016 after he failed to recoup a total of 685 million won he had loaned the developer between October 2014 and June 2015.
Although Cheon partially won his case against the developer in July 2019, he filed an additional lawsuit against the developer in January last year, claiming he was owed a further 820 million won.
In the meantime, the developer filed a criminal complaint against Cheon for publishing a series of derogatory posts in an online real estate forum between 2017 and 2019.
Cheon lost not only his second lawsuit against the developer but also the defamation case after the Daegu court deemed the posts contained “insufficiently evidenced information” with the intent of maligning the developer’s reputation.
Police said they believed Cheon decided after he lost the defamation case on Wednesday to set fire to the developer’s attorney’s office.
In footage recorded by closed-circuit television cameras near his apartment building on the day of the fire, Cheon can be seen loading a large object covered by a white cloth – now believed to be a large container of gasoline – into the front passenger seat of his vehicle around 10:48 a.m. on Thursday.
Cheon then drove a short distance from his residential compound to the building that housed the property developer’s attorney’s office, where a fire was reported at 10:55 a.m.
Police retrieved three glass containers and one towel at the scene of the fire, which they believed were used in the arson based on traces of gasoline on them.
They also retrieved a knife, approximately 11 centimeters (4 inches) in length, next to Cheon’s body.
Two of the seven victims killed in the fire bore knife wounds, but the National Forensic Service concluded from its preliminary autopsy that carbon monoxide poisoning was the cause of death for all seven.
The property developer’s attorney, who was out of office at the time of the arson, was unharmed, but the fact that Cheon may have targeted his office sent shockwaves through the legal community in Daegu.
Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon paid his respects at a joint funerary altar to the victims on Thursday evening and promised he would his best “to shed light on the case and quickly offer support to those affected.”
BY MICHAEL LEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]