South Korea ferry disaster boss Yoo Byung-eun found dead in plum orchard

 

Seoul

The body of South Korea’s most wanted man was identified today almost six weeks after police first stumbled on the remains near where his overloaded ferry sank in April, taking more than 300 passengers to their deaths.

The question, after police claimed to have conclusively identified 73-year-old Yoo Byung-eun from one grisly fingerprint and DNA matching that of his older brother, was why they had taken so long to find out who he was. Beside him was a book that he had written, “Greater Love Has No Man Than This”, a religious treatise reflecting the controversial evangelical cult that authorities say had been illegally draining money from his shipping company for years.

Beside Yoo’s body, found in a plum orchard in the historic town of Suncheon, renowned for its wetlands and wildlife, was a bottle of shark liver oil, a health product manufactured by one of his companies, and three empty bottles of soju, a rice wine. Police were still not certain whether he took his life, was murdered, or had had far too much to drink while eluding a nationwide manhunt. 

The local police chief, Woo Hyung-ho, said his men were not aware when they inspected the book that Yoo was the author. In a news conference, Woo acknowledged “we were not perfect” – after which his superiors at the national police agency relieved him of his post.

 

Woo said the body was decomposed when discovered on 12 June after authorities had offered a bounty of nearly $500,000 to anyone leading them to where he was. Members of his Evangelical Baptist Church, which he founded and tightly controlled, refused to cooperate, blocking police from entering their compound near Seoul.

Yoo became the central figure in the tragedy that cost 304 lives, most of them school students on a cruise from the west coast port of Incheon to the scenic island of Jeju off the Korean south coast. The 6,800-ton vessel, the Sewol, sank after turning sharply in turbulent waters as cargo, including more than 100 vehicles, suddenly shifted.

Authorities believe Yoo and his managers, most of them members of his church, deliberately overlooked safety requirements, authorising several times the maximum capacity on voyages down the Korean west coast. Yoo’s brother is on trial for embezzlement, his wife also faces charges, and their two sons are still missing. The captain of the ship and 14 crew members are on trial for manslaughter and negligence for abandoning the ship. They were winched off by helicopter while passengers were told to wait below decks for rescue that never came. Korean coast guard officers and crew members also face charges for botching the rescue in which only 172 of 476 passengers survived.       

French authorities arrested Yoo’s oldest daughter, Som-na, in Paris, where she was living near the Champs-Elysee while running an elite interior decorating firm. Prosecutors say funds from church donations and Yoo’s many businesses were transferred through the firm while he displayed his naturistic photographs under the pseudonym, Ahae, an old Korean word for “child,” around the world.

Befitting his cosmopolitan lifestyle, Yoo was wearing an Italian jacket and custom-made shoes when his body was found. The remains were flown to the national police headquarters in Seoul for scrutiny by experts. The hunt for Yoo embarrassed the country’s highest leaders. and threatened to plunge the conservative government into a crisis ripe for exploitation by its leftist foes. South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye said that Yoo was “ridiculing the law” and “causing indignation among the people”.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Bookkeeper - German Speaking - Part Time

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm of accountants based ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a financial services c...

Ashdown Group: Field Service Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum + car allowance and on call: Ashdown Group: A succes...

Recruitment Genius: Sales & Marketing Co-Ordinator

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established small company ...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence