Ferry Owner Found Dead

Fugitive ferry owner and cult leader Yoo Byung-eon has been found dead in southwestern Korea, police said Monday. According to police, DNA tests conducted on the body of a man found in Suncheon, South Jeolla Province on June 12 turned up a 99-percent match with Yoo's DNA.

Yoo's body was discovered on an apricot farm dressed in winter clothes next to a bag containing liquor. The face was decomposed beyond recognition.

A prosecution official in South Jeolla Province said, "The results of DNA testing by the National Institute of Scientific Investigation showed a near-complete match with the DNA of Yoo's older brother," who has been jailed.

A man who found the body of Yoo Byung-eon shows reporters the scene in Suncheon, South Jeolla Province early Tuesday morning. /Newsis A man who found the body of Yoo Byung-eon shows reporters the scene in Suncheon, South Jeolla Province early Tuesday morning. /Newsis

Police plan a press conference Tuesday announcing the discovery. A police official said, "Yoo appears to have died while wandering around the woods alone."

A close confidant of Yoo's apparently told prosecutors that Yoo had barely eaten during his days on the run.

The identification brings to an end a massive manhunt that lasted several months since the April 16 ferry disaster and involved thousands of police and military personnel, stalled every step of the way by Yoo’s family and followers of his crackpot cult.

The body of fugitive ferry owner Yoo Byung-eon is being taken for DNA testing from Suncheon, South Jeolla Province on early Tuesday morning. /Newsis The body of fugitive ferry owner Yoo Byung-eon is being taken for DNA testing from Suncheon, South Jeolla Province on early Tuesday morning. /Newsis

Yoo holed up at a compound south of Seoul owned by his cult when prosecutors began hunting for him on April 20 and was put on the most-wanted list on May 16 after repeatedly failing to obey a summons. He fled the compound in late April hiding in the car of one of his followers, and when prosecutors finally searched the compound they came up empty-handed.

There was a W500 million bounty on his head (US$1=W1,027).

Prosecutors discovered body fluids traced to Yoo at a summer cottage near Suncheon on May 24, but he again evaded capture and a special task force was unable to find him.

Yoo had separately been charged with embezzling W128.9 billion from Chonghaejin Marine, which operated the ill-fated ferry, and evading W10.1 billion in donation taxes.

Prosecutors are still looking for his eldest son Dae-gyun as attempts continue to seize family’s assets to pay for the search and rescue operation in the ferry disaster and compensate the victims.

Yoo, an undischarged bankrupt who had repeatedly been in trouble with the law over dodgy dealings and the mass suicide of followers in the late 1990s, officially owned nothing himself but was suspected of controlling an extensive business empire through his family and trusted disciples.

englishnews@chosun.com / Jul. 22, 2014 09:36 KST