Korean officials: Ferry fugitive's cause of death unknown

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Story highlights

  • South Korean forensics: Body found in June is Yoo Byung Eun
  • Authorities: Yoo's cause of death cannot be determined
  • Yoo was wanted by prosecutors in connection to Sewol ferry crash
  • Two autopsies performed and results matched, says official

South Korean forensics officials say they are sure the body found in a plum orchard last month is Yoo Byung Eun, a billionaire fugitive who was wanted in connection to the fatal Sewol ferry crash that claimed nearly 300 lives.

But the country's forensics service said there was no way to determine the cause of death of Yoo, 73, because of the decomposed state of the body.

Officials said that fingerprint, dental and DNA evidence confirmed his identity.

According to various tests conducted, Yoo was not poisoned or suffocated.

They found no trace of poison or alcohol, said Lee Han-Young, head of the Central Legal Medical Center. There were no signs of external force that may have caused death, he added.

Yoo had been wanted by South Korean authorities, as prosecutors believed he and his sons controlled the shipping company that operated the Sewol ferry that sank on April 16. Yoo's representatives denied this allegation. His supporters claimed that Yoo had been made into a scapegoat for the ferry tragedy.

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The sinking killed 294 people on board, including hundreds of high school students who were on a field trip. More than 100 days after the incident, divers are still searching for bodies. Ten people remain missing.

Yoo was a religious figure of the Evangelical Baptist Church, which was founded by his father-in-law. A spokesman for the group confirmed Yoo's death on Friday.

It was still unclear when Yoo died.

South Korean authorities had been under scrutiny for their inability to find the elusive billionaire despite a massive manhunt, involving 8,000 officers, in the weeks following the incident.

Suggestions that police bungled the investigation prompted officers to hold Friday's press conference.

The identification process took 40 days, after the body was found on June 12. Korean authorities performed two autopsies and the test results matched, Lee said.

Yoo's body can now be turned over to his family, but the whereabouts of most of his children are not known. Yoo's wife, Kwon Yun-Ja, is under arrest in South Korea.