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Forensic exam of Korea ferry owner's body inconclusive

South Korean forensic experts said Friday (July 25) they had been unable to determine a cause of death after examining the body of a fugitive tycoon at the heart of the inquiry into April's ferry disaster.

SEOUL: South Korean forensic experts said Friday (July 25) they had been unable to determine a cause of death after examining the body of a fugitive tycoon at the heart of the inquiry into April's ferry disaster. The body of Yoo Byung-eun, 73, had been found June 12 in a fruit orchard in an extremely advanced state of decomposition.

At first, local police had no idea it was Yoo's body and a nationwide manhunt for the reclusive billionaire had continued for six weeks before DNA and fingerprint evidence revealed the corpse's identity.

Yoo was the patriarch of the family that owned and operated the Sewol ferry which sank April 16 with the loss of around 300 lives -- mostly schoolchildren. After Yoo ignored repeated summonses for questioning over lax safety standards and regulatory violations, state prosecutors had offered a $500,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.

Several empty bottles of alcohol found near his body prompted speculation that he had committed suicide, but state forensic experts said toxicity tests had come back negative. "The cause of death could not be determined," Seo Joong-seok, the director general of the National Forensic Service, told a press briefing. "Test results rule out the possibility of the deceased having taken any drug, alcohol or poison," Seo said.

As to other causes, Seo said the body was so badly decomposed that it had been impossible to confirm or rule out a number of scenarios including homicide. "There is no way to determine whether he had suffered any wounds," Seo said. "And as the intestines were so badly decomposed, we were unable to determine any disease as a cause," he added.

The forensic results are likely to fuel the rampant speculation and conspiracy theories that have been doing the rounds on South Korean social networks since police announced Tuesday that the body from the orchard was Yoo's. Some have even suggested the body was not Yoo's at all and had been planted by the authorities to curb criticism of their failure to capture the missing tycoon.

The fact that the body was in a police morgue for six weeks while the manhunt was still underway triggered a storm of angry ridicule. Two senior police officials and a top prosecutor in the case were both dismissed from their posts as a result.

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