SEOUL, South Korea - The fugitive business tycoon in the fatal ferry disaster that killed some 300 people in April has been found dead, thus ending one of the massive manhunts in South Korean history, police said Tuesday.
Yonhap news agency citing Woo Hyung Ho, a police chief in Suncheon, said that the body of Yoo Byung-eun was found on June 12 in a field in Suncheon, about 415 km south of Seoul.
"The body, which was discovered on June 12 in a plum field in Suncheon, has been confirmed as that of Yoo Byung-eun through DNA testing and fingerprinting," the police chief said at the nationally televised press briefing.
"Our initial handling of the case was less than appropriate," said Woo, acknowledging that his officers had not imagined that the body might be Yoo's when it was found.
Police said that Yoo Byung-eun, 72, was believed to have been living in a vacation home, some 2.5 km away from the place where his body was discovered.
Yoo Byung-eun, a church leader and businessman was South Korea's most wanted man. He was the owner and top manager of Chonghaejin Marine Company that operated the Sewol ferry, which sank April 16.
Woo ruled out prima facie any sign of foul play. He said that the exact timing and cause of death were not known. "So far, we haven't found any sign that he was murdered," the police chief said.
"We believe that more detailed forensic analysis and a second autopsy by the National Forensic Service will shed light on other details such as the cause of death."
Prosecutors have sought Yoo's arrest over the sinking of the 6,825-ton ferry Sewol.
Yoo and his family were also charged in May in embezzlement, breach of trust and tax evasion cases.
The prosecutors believed that he and members of his family strained the company's finances by taking large sums, forcing it to spend little on the safety training for the ferry's crew.
Arrest warrants were also issued for his second son and eldest daughter, who are staying abroad.
His eldest son was placed on the most wanted list along with Yoo.
His wife and his 75-year-old elder brother as well as many assistants who are suspected of helping Yoo run away have been arrested.