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Sewol ferry owner found dead

Tuesday 22 Jul 2014 8:17 a.m.

The Sewol ferry shortly after capsizing (File/South Korea Coast Guard)

The Sewol ferry shortly after capsizing (File/South Korea Coast Guard)

South Korean police have found the body of fugitive business tycoon Yoo Byung-Eun, the target of a months-long manhunt connected to April's Sewol ferry disaster that claimed more than 300 lives.

The heavily decomposed corpse of the 73-year-old Yoo was discovered on June 12 lying on the ground in a plum orchard 300km south of Seoul.

Suncheon police chief Woo Hyung-Ho told reporters the body was too decomposed to ascertain the cause of death, although several empty bottles of alcohol were found at the scene.

"We do not know yet whether it was a homicide or a suicide," Woo said.

Yoo was the patriarch of the family behind Chonghaejin Marine Co, which owned and operated the Sewol ferry that sank on April 16 with 476 people on board, including 325 high school children.

The number of confirmed dead currently stands at 294, with 10 victims still unaccounted for.

The disaster stunned South Korea and triggered public outrage as it emerged that incompetence, corruption and greed had all contributed to the disaster.

A summons was issued for Yoo shortly after the sinking, but went on the run.

A reward of 500 million won (NZ$561,398) was offered for information leading to his capture, and 100 million won for that of his eldest son, Yoo Dae-Kyun.

Yoo was wanted for questioning on possible charges of embezzlement and criminal negligence, related to regulatory violations.

The body found was almost unrecognisable but forensic experts eventually managed to lift a print from one of the body's index fingers which confirmed Yoo's identity.

The reclusive billionaire had been the target of a massive nationwide man-hunt, involving tens of thousands of police officers and military troops.

Many of his family members have been arrested, including his wife and his brother. A daughter is fighting an extradition bid from Paris.

The captain and 14 surviving crew members of the Sewol are currently on trial, some of them on charges of wilful homicide which carry the death penalty.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 0800 543 354.

AFP

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