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South Korea ferry disaster: Body of fugitive billionaire ferry boss found in a field

Police confirm body found in June is that of Yoo Byung-eun who disappeared after more than 300 died in cruise disaster

South Korean police have confirmed they have found the body of the fugitive billionaire businessman who owned the ferry that killed more than 300 people in April.

Authorities found the body of 23-year-old Yoo Byung-eun in an agricultural field in the southern South Korean city of Suncheon in June.

The businessman and his son went missing shortly after the disaster happened, sparking a media frenzy in South Korea and a mass manhunt, with authorities offering a $50,000 (£29,000) reward for information about his whereabouts at the time.

Mr Yoo’s body was found wearing a pair of expensive shoes and a costly Italian-made jacket, with three empty bottles of local Korean alcohol, a bag and a magnifying glass around him.

Police officer Wu Hyung-ho said the body of Mr Yoo was already decayed beyond recognition, but the results of DNA and fingerprint tests confirmed it was that of the missing billionaire, and more thorough investigation would need to be carried out in order to find out how and when he died.


The disaster led to a period of national mourning across South Korea, with angry relatives of those who had died protesting against the handling of the rescue mission by authorities. Of the 488 people on board, over 300 died when the ferry sank.

Mr Yoo’s alleged corruption was thought to have contributed to the sinking of the Sewol ferry, and he was wanted on allegations of tax evasion, embezzlement and professional negligence.

The tycoon was thought to still be in control of the ferry’s operator, Chonghaejin, despite having been the boss of the company’s predecessor that went bankrupt in the late 1990s. Mr Yoo was thought to be in control of Chonghaejin through a complex web of holding companies in which his children and close associates are large shareholders.

His son, Yoo Dae-Kyun, is still on the run with a $100,000 (£59,000) government reward offered for information of his whereabouts, while many of the billionaire’s family have been arrested, including his wife Kwon Yoon-ja, and his daughter who is currently fighting an extradition bid from France.

A total of 294 dead bodies have now been retrieved from the sunken ferry, though 10 people are still missing. Last month a new report showed that the ferry had been licensed on falsified documents, and was found to be carrying double its cargo load.

Mr Yoo was a member of a controversial church near Seoul that has been called a cult and linked to a 1987 mass suicide. The businessman was originally thought to be holed up in the church’s compound, but he was not found when police searched the area in May. Members of the church, who were said to have called Mr Yoo “Moses,” tried to hold police off from searching the compound at the time, with hundreds of followers reportedly threatening to die as martyrs.

Additional reporting from PA