Police under fire for taking 40 days to identify dead body of ferry owner

July 22, 2014
Woo Hyung-ho, head of the Suncheon Police Station, was fired from his post on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

Woo Hyung-ho, head of the Suncheon Police Station, was fired from his post on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

By Kim Se-jeong

Police are being criticized for their initial investigation into the June 12 discovery of the body of a man later found to Yoo Byung-eun.

Police initially thought it was the corps of a homeless man, not Yoo, according to officers. It took 40 days to confirm the identity of the body.

Amid a public uproar, the National Police Agency (NPA) sacked Woo Hyung-ho, head of the Suncheon Police Station, from his post.

NPA Chief Lee Seong-han admitted that police could have done a better job.

“We simply didn’t imagine that Yoo was dead. We only supposed he would be hiding somewhere out there,” Lee told reporters.

His body was found in a plum orchard in Suncheon, South Jeolla Province. The body was severely decayed when it was found, with the skull beginning to show.

“When the body was found, almost 80 percent decayed. It made it harder for us to link the body to Yoo. But looking back, I think we should have looked into that more carefully,” Lee said.

The place where his body was found is only a 10-minute walk away from Yoo’s vacation home. In addition, what was found with the body provided a number of hints as to its identity.

A bottle of Squalene, a product sold by one of Yoo’s companies, two empty soju bottles, one makgeolli bottle and a bag were found. The book was written by Yoo. He was also wearing a jacket and shoes by a famous Italian designer company.

The police closed the case, after concluding that he was a homeless man, while awaiting forensic test results.

“Around 7:30 last night (Monday night KST), we were told that the DNA was identical to Yoo’s brother Byung-il,” added Lee. By Tuesday morning, the DNA and fingerprints evidence confirmed that the body was Yoo.

Forensic scientists are now looking into the exact cause of his death.

Yoo appears to have died soon after the prosecution issued an arrest warrant for him on May 22.

A manhunt for Yoo has been one of the biggest and most costly in the nation’s history. So many law enforcement officers were drawn into the search that the police and prosecution had to cover for a lack of personnel for other tasks.

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