Police announced today that they had found Yoo Byeong-Eon’s badly decomposed body on June 12, nearly six weeks ago:
The chief of police in Suncheon, Yoo Hyung-ho, told reporters that the body was 80% decomposed when an autopsy was started June 13, a day after the body was found. Yonhap said the body was found in a plum field in the city of Suncheon, about 300 kilometers (186 miles) south of Seoul.
He said authorities were able to match DNA from the body to the billionaire and also used a fingerprint from the right index finger.
Water cooler talk has centered around the timing. Just yesterday, I spoke to several who noted that this coming Thursday would mark the 100-day anniversary since the Sewol Ferry tragedy. At least one had intended to attend a planned candlelight march and demonstration in Seoul. Today she expressed incredulity at the timing of the announcement with the upcoming July 30 elections, the farmers’ rice protests, and again the 100-day anniversary and planned candlelight march.
Others expressed dismay with the wasted effort and resources in searching for a dead body six weeks in police possession. Lest readers forget that Korea had conducted a nationwide (and international) manhunt for Yoo Byeon-Eon, I have been by the Evangelical Baptist Church’s Geumsuwon compound in Anseong at least twice since June 12, and police searched every vehicle that passed on Rte. 38, backing up traffic for a kilometer. Police had a considerable and convincing show of uniformed officers at that location.
I note that the linked article stated that Korean authorities had identified Yoo Byeong-Eon’s badly decomposed body by his DNA and a fingerprint from his right index finger. I understand the toxicology reports can take up to six weeks and even that DNA test results, however long they take, might not be immediate, but six weeks?
I can come up with no reasonable explanation for the delay in announcing the results of the fingerprint match.
Finally, I understand (in my admittedly limited understanding of Korean culture) that inquiries into fault and wrong-doing of those who commit suicide come to a halt. I remember RMH’s suicide, which in effect ended the investigations into his alleged dealings. I wonder whether Yoo Byeong-Eon (if he indeed committed suicide) will be afforded the same courtesy.
UPDATE: Suncheon police chief Woo Hyung-Ho (identified as “Yoo Hyung-ho” in the cited article above) admitted to a botched investigation:
“Woo acknowledged that investigators had also been slow in connecting the body with the fugitive businessman.
It was found just a few kilometres from a villa Yoo was known to have used, and next to the corpse was a bag containing an autobiography Yoo wrote in prison in the 1990s.
“We admit that … the investigations on his belongings were imperfect,” Woo said.
“We could have identified him far earlier if we had worked more actively,” he added.
“Woo’s frankness was apparently not appreciated by his superiors and shortly after the press briefing it was announced that he had been removed from his post as police chief.” Ouch.
State-owned Arirang news reported that the DNA tests took so long because the badly decomposed body necessitated that DNA be sampled from his bones. Arirang also reported that Yoo’s body was found wearing a “high-priced” Italian made winter jacket, a hat, and no shoes and lying near a bag etched with “Love like a Dream” (the title of his authored book), alcohol (Yoo was said to be a non-drinker), parts of a copy of his book, and a brand of bottled water owned by Yoo’s company and that he drank exclusively.
The Korea Herald reported that “insiders raised the possibility that investigators may have regarded the body as that of an elderly resident from the provincial district. Investigators had reportedly told the plum farm owner” who had found the body “that the body ‘seemed to be an ordinary homeless person.’ ” I find investigators reactions, delays, inaction, and unwillingness to at least consider that the body could be Yoo’s given the circumstantial evidence inexplicable.
Members of Yoo’s Evangelical Baptist Church remain non-believers:
Despite the forensic evidence gathered by the police, the church’s followers refused to believe the body found in Suncheon was Yoo’s.
“The body was too decomposed to be his,” said church spokesman Lee Tae-Jong, who was also suspicious about the alcohol found at the scene.
“Chairman Yoo seldom drinks,” Lee told the YTN news channel.
“I suspect this is a trap laid by police in their efforts to capture him,” he added.