South Korean police said Tuesday that a body found last month is of Yoo Byung-eun, the fugitive shipping tycoon whose company operated the Sewol ferry that sank in April, killing more than 300 people.
Yoo's body was reportedly found on June 12 in a field in Suncheon, a city located 186 miles south of Seoul, and police were able to identify the badly decomposed body by matching the DNA and fingerprints. According to reports, citing local police, investigators are trying to determine the time and cause of death from the mostly decayed body, which has been transferred from Suncheon to the National Forensic Service in Seoul.
"I was roaming around the field and a person was dead ... but the body was decayed," Park Yoon-seok, a resident who found the body, told cable news network YTN, according to Reuters. "He looked like a completely homeless person. He was lying straight with only the head turned around."
A massive manhunt was launched to find the businessman, who went missing shortly after the Sewol, which was carrying more than 470 people, mostly school students, en route to Jeju island, about 60 miles south of the Korean peninsula, sank on April 16, in what became one of South Korea's deadliest maritime disasters in decades.
Yoo, head of the family that owns the ferry operator Chonghaejin Marine Co. Ltd., was wanted for questioning in the case as authorities suspect that mismanagement of the ferry company may have contributed to the disaster. He was also previously accused of misappropriating funds, negligence and tax evasion in separate cases.
While most of his family members have been arrested in connection with the ferry disaster, police had reportedly offered a bounty of about $500,000 for leads to the whereabouts of Yoo. A daughter, who was arrested in May in France, is battling extradition while there is a bounty of $100,000 on Yoo's eldest son who has so far evaded arrest, according to reports.
According to Associated Press, Yoo was also a member of a church that made headlines in 1987 after being linked to a collective murder-suicide pact, in which 32 people, suspected of being church members, were found dead in a factory attic near Seoul. Yoo was linked to the case after a probe into the financial transactions of the dead people showed that some of their money had been passed to him. While church members denied any connection with the death of the people, Yoo was also cleared of suspicion due to lack of evidence.