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South Korea police find body believed to be fugitive ferry tycoon

South Korean police said on Tuesday (July 22) they had found what they believed was the body of a fugitive business tycoon wanted over April's Sewol ferry disaster that claimed around 300 lives.

SEOUL: South Korean police said on Tuesday (July 22) they had found what they believed was the body of a fugitive business tycoon wanted over April's Sewol ferry disaster that claimed around 300 lives.

If confirmed, the discovery will end a massive, months-long manhunt for billionaire Yoo Byung-Eun, the 73-year-old patriarch whose family owns the Seowl ferry operator, Chonghaejin Marine Co.

"It is true that a body, which is believed to be that of Yoo, was found," a senior police official told AFP.

The heavily decomposed corpse was recovered on June 12 from a plum field in Suncheon, a city 300 kilometres south of Seoul.

There was no immediate indication of the cause of death.

Decomposition was so advanced that DNA testing was needed to confirm his identity, the Yonhap news agency said.

The test matched the DNA of Yoo's elder brother, leading police to believe the body was that of the reclusive billionaire.

According to the Yonhap news agency, it was lying face up in the field, and clothed in a winter jacket and hat.

The body was brought to Seoul on Tuesday for further forensic analysis, and a police press briefing was scheduled for 9:00 am (0000 GMT).

Yoo went on the run shortly after the 6,825-tonne Seowl capsized and sank on April 16 with 476 people on board, including 325 high school students.

The number of confirmed dead currently stands at 294, with 10 victims still unaccounted for.

The ferry disaster stunned South Korea, knocking the entire country off its stride and unleashing widespread public anger, as it emerged that incompetence, corruption and greed had all contributed to the scale of the disaster.

President Park Geun-Hye and her administration have been bitterly criticised for their response to the tragedy.

The captain and 14 surviving crew members are currently on trial, some of them on charges of wilful homicide which carry the death penalty.

A summons was issued for Yoo shortly after the sinking, but he refused to surrender to police and eventually went on the run.

A reward of 500 million won (US$490,000) was offered for information leading to his capture, and 100 million won for that of his eldest son, Yoo Dae-Kyun.

Yoo was wanted for questioning on possible charges of embezzlement and criminal negligence, related to regulatory violations.

Many of his family members have been arrested, including his wife and his brother. A daughter is fighting an extradition bid from Paris.

Earlier this month, South Korean prosecutors filed embezzlement charges against his 71-year-old wife, Kwon Yun-Ja.

The charges were unrelated to the ferry sinking, and involved the alleged embezzlement of money from a splinter religious group established by Kwon's father.

In June, thousands of police officers conducted a raid on a major church complex looking for Yoo.

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