South Korean police say body of missing man believed to owner of disaster ferry has been found

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South Korean police said Tuesday that they have found a body of a fugitive billionaire businessman sought over April's ferry disaster that left more than 300 people dead or missing.

The body was found in an agricultural field in the southern South Korean city of Suncheon on June 12, local police station chief Wu Hyung-ho told a news conference. He said DNA and fingerprint samples taken from the body matched those of Yoo Byung-eun.

Wu said the body had decayed beyond recognition when it was found and a more thorough examination was needed to find how and when he died. An initial investigation showed there was no evidence that he was murdered, Wu said.

The body was wearing a pair of costly shoes and a luxurious Italian brand Loro Piana winter parka. Also found near him were three empty Korean local liquor bottles, a cloth bag and a magnifying glass, according to Wu.

The state-run National Forensic Service, which conducted DNA tests, said it will run more tests on the body but declined to provide further information. Suncheon police officers, requesting anonymity citing department rules, said the additional tests were aimed at finding the cause and timing of Yoo's death.

Police and prosecutors have been seeking Yoo for weeks and had offered a $500,000 reward for tips about him. They believe Yoo was the owner of the ferry and that his alleged corruption may have contributed to its sinking.

The sinking, one of South Korea's deadliest disasters in decades, has caused an outpouring of national grief, and the country is undergoing national soul searching about public safety. About 100 days after the disaster, 294 dead bodies have been retrieved but 10 people are still missing.

Prosecutors said Monday that 139 people had been arrested over the ferry sinking, including all 15 crew members tasked with navigating the ship, and employees at a company that operated the ferry over suspicions of improper stowage and overloading of cargo. The crew members face charges of negligence and failing to perform their duties to rescue passengers, with four of them facing homicide charges.

Yoo, head of the now-defunct predecessor of the ferry's current operator, Chonghaejin, allegedly still controlled the company through a complex web of holding companies in which his children and close associates are large shareholders. The government offered a $100,000 bounty for Yoo's eldest son, and one of his daughters was arrested in France in May.

The predecessor company went bankrupt in the late 1990s but Yoo's family continued to operate ferry businesses under the names of other companies, including one that eventually became Chonghaejin.

Yoo is also a member of a church that critics and defectors say is a cult. Yoo's church made headlines in 1987 when 32 people, who critics suspect were church members, were found dead in the attic of a factory near Seoul in what authorities said was a collective murder-suicide pact. Church members have denied involvement.

Yoo was investigated over the deaths after a probe into the dead people's financial transactions showed some of their money was funneled to him. He was cleared of suspicions that he was behind the suicides because of a lack of evidence, but was convicted on a separate fraud charge.


Associated Press writer Jung-yoon Choi contributed to this report.