Opposition raises doubt over Sewol ferry owner's body

Opposition raises doubt over Sewol ferry owner's body

Opposition lawmakers visited the state-run forensics service Wednesday to inspect the identification process of the recently discovered body of Yoo Byung-eun, the fugitive owner of sunken ferry Sewol.

The visit by the members of the parliamentary committee on the Sewol probe was prompted by suspicions about Yoo's body, which include a recent allegation claiming that the body was not his.

"A police official who was present at the scene of the body's identification told me that judging from appearance, he was 'certain' it was not Yoo," Rep. Park Beom-kye, the spokesperson of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, said Tuesday. While the National Forensics Service said the deceased was 159 centimeters tall, the corpse was only 150 centimeters tall, he added.

"It's also strange that the authorities were able to identify him via a fingerprint sample from his right hand in July, when the hand was supposedly so decayed that it was impossible to obtain a sample in June," Park said.

Last week, the NFS announced that the body of an unidentified man recovered in Suncheon, South Jeolla Province, on July 12 was that of the 73-year-old businessman. It added that the postmortem examination had failed to discover the cause of death, inducing an array of conspiracy theories involving Korea's most wanted man.

Rep. Park Jie-won of the NPAD even raised allegations that the body in question was actually discovered before the Sewol plunged into the ocean on April 16, leaving over 300 dead or missing. He quoted five residents in the area adjacent to the site where the body was found.

According to a survey by polling agency Real Meter, 57 percent of the people said they did not trust the results announced by the NFS.

Contrary to the rampant conspiracy theories, experts said there is no doubt that the body is Yoo.

"The DNA testing shows that the deceased and Yoo Byung-eun's brother had the same mother, and his fingerprints matched that on Yoo's ID card. The dental records from the body also match those of Yoo, who had 10 gold teeth, which is very unusual," said Pyo Chang-won, a renowned criminal profiler. "There is very little possibility that it (the body) is not Yoo's, unless it's an avatar clone of him."

The evidence that it is Yoo's body is overwhelming, said Yoo Seong-ho, a professor of forensic medicine at Seoul National University.

"There are three primary identifiers we use for dead bodies: fingerprints, DNA and dental records. And all three of these identifiers pointed to Yoo," he said.

Earlier in the day, police officials said the NFS had told them DNA testing on Yoo's eldest son Dae-kyun ― arrested last week ― confirmed the paternal relationship between him and the dead body.

"Visual examination is not accurate, and neither are testimonies of eyewitnesses. But the DNA testing, you can't really fake that," said professor Yoo.

The height disparity mentioned by Rep. Park Beom-kye can be accounted for, he said, as the cited measurement was done with three of the neck bones missing from the corpse. The measurement itself is not 100 percent accurate because the height of the body was estimated using the length of the femur bone.

Science can also explain the mystery of the fingerprint sample suddenly appearing a month after the body's acquisition.

"When an initially wet body dries up after time, the ridges in the finger reappear, allowing forensic officials to obtain a fingerprint sample," he said.

According to the professor, this process could have been completed artificially within a day.

"I'm just speculating, but the police must have given up trying to identify the body after one try. The incompetence of the officials coupled with a misunderstanding (among the public) is presumed to have led to the conspiracy," he said.

Some of the blame behind the conspiracy theories should be placed upon the government agencies themselves, Pyo said. Rather than focusing on discovering the truth, they attempted to cover up the misdeeds by those in power.

"A lot of the time, the public had good reason to raise suspicions. The investigators often worked as henchmen for the ones in power, which has resulted in people losing faith in what the state agencies or authorities tell them," he said.

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