Ineptitude on a Mind-Boggling Scale

Fugitive ferry owner and cult leader Yoo Byung-eon was found dead in southwestern Korea more than 40 days ago while a massive manhunt for him continued unabated. DNA tests of the body found in a field in Suncheon, South Jeolla Province on June 12 turned up a 99-percent match with Yoo's DNA, and fingerprint analysis yielded a perfect match as well.

This is simply unbelievable. On June 10, two days before Yoo's body was discovered, prosecutors and police held a joint meeting with military brass and officials from the Ministry of Security and Public Administration to discuss coordinated strategies to arrest the nation's most-wanted fugitive. Even a Navy warship was dispatched to search for Yoo in case he attempted to flee by sea.

On June 13, the government pushed community elders across the country to hold meetings to familiarize themselves with Yoo's appearance and with the procedure should they spot him.

While all of this was going on, Yoo's body lay in a morgue somewhere while forensics took their sweet time identifying him. Yet the body was found in the woods just 2.5 km away from a cottage police had raided on May 25, and 300 m from a road checkpoint. Police mobilized 8,116 people to search the area for the fugitive. This clearly demonstrates how hard they were looking.

When a villager reported finding the body on June 12, police filed it as a dead vagrant and paid little attention to it. A bag found next to the body contained a book Yoo had written, as well as health supplements manufactured by one of his companies. Bodies found under such circumstances must be approved for autopsy by a prosecutor, and police apparently sent the records to the relevant authorities.

But the prosecutor in charge simply treated the discovery as a routine incident and told police to hand the body over to the family, if found. Prosecutors in Suncheon must have been aware of the operation taking place right under their noses. What were they thinking?

On Monday, when the DNA test results came out, the arrest warrant for Yoo had expired, requiring prosecutors to apply for a new one. And the same day a senior prosecution official told reporters that investigators were hot on Yoo's tracks, making it sound as if there had been some breakthrough in tracking down the phantom. It is mind-boggling how inept police and prosecutors are.

The only passengers aboard the ferry that the Korea Coast Guard managed to rescue were those who had jumped off the toppled vessel of their own accord, while officials at the Ministry of Safety and Public Administration, which oversaw the rescue operations, could not even produce an accurate assessment of the number of passengers on board. The list of blunders goes on.

The ineptitude demonstrated by the government spawned rumors after rumors and resulted in widespread public distrust. What further disasters await Korea?

englishnews@chosun.com / Jul. 23, 2014 13:43 KST