Conspiracy Theories on Ferry Owner's Death Refuse to Die

Conspiracy theories continue to swirl around the mysterious death of ferry owner Yoo Byung-eon even though his body has been positively identified by all the forensic methods in the book.

Almost all of Yoo's relatives and associates who are in Korea, including his eldest son and driver, have been nabbed or turned themselves in.

But rumors have kept circulating on social networking sites. They say that Yoo is still alive and that his death was a conspiracy by the government aimed at winning the July 30 by-elections.

So poor has been the official handling of the aftermath of the April 16 ferry disaster that people now seem to trust rumors more than announcements from prosecutors, police, and the National Forensic Service.

In a straw poll of 500 adults by Realmeter last Friday, 57.7 percent of respondents said they cannot trust the NFS announcement identifying Yoo's corpse.

The NFS said it was "100 percent sure" that the body, which was found in a badly decomposed state in Suncheon, South Jeolla Province in June, was Yoo's.

Some politicians are adding the fuel. Park Ji-won, a lawmaker with the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, claimed that according to taped interviews with residents of a nearby village the body was already found in April.

"Villagers could not have failed to notice it, because there are chilli pepper and watermelon fields nearby," he said. He suggested that someone switched the bodies or moved Yoo's body after he was dead.

But prosecutors and police are adamant that Yoo's body, which was discovered on June 12, was the only corpse found in and around the village between April and June.

A police officer said if the body had been found in April, it would not have been swarming with maggots. He said the apricot orchard where the body was found is on higher ground than the chilli pepper and watermelon fields, "so it's impossible to see what happens up there."

Some believe the body was a vagrant, but an investigator said, "Interviews with villagers confirmed that there was no homeless person in the village at that time."

One widely discussed theory is that the rapid way the chips have been falling into place since Yoo's body was identified suggests the government concocted results in a hurry ahead of the July 30 by-elections. But if that were true, police would not have wasted the money and manpower hunting for Yoo day and night for over a month after the corpse was found.

Lee Myung-jin, a professor of sociology at Korea University, said, "If this situation goes on, it'll be hard to achieve closure in the ferry tragedy and cause social discord."

englishnews@chosun.com / Jul. 30, 2014 12:56 KST