SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean police said Tuesday that they have found the body of a fugitive billionaire businessman sought over April’s ferry disaster that left more than 300 people dead or missing.
Police officer Wu Hyung-ho told a televised news conference that the body was found in an agricultural field in the southern South Korean city of Suncheon on June 12. He said results of DNA and fingerprint tests showed they matched those of Yoo Byung-eun.
Wu said the body was decayed beyond recognition when it was found and more thorough investigation is needed to find how and when he died.
The body was wearing a pair of expensive shoes and a costly Italian-made jacket. Also found near him were three empty Korean liquor bottles, a bag and a magnifying glass, police said.
Authorities believe Yoo was the ferry owner and that his alleged corruption may have contributed to its sinking, one of South Korea’s deadliest disasters in decades.
The sinking 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 bodies have been retrieved but 10 people are still missing.
Police and prosecutors have sought Yoo for weeks and had offered a $500,000 reward for tips about him.
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 were found dead in the attic of a factory near Seoul in what authorities said was a collective murder-suicide pact.
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 convicted on a fraud charge.