Prosecutors steering Itaewon case away from firefighters: Police
Police investigating the Itaewon crowd surge blamed prosecutors on Thursday for trying to steer the probe away from firefighters to please President Yoon Suk-yeol.
Members of a special investigation team with the Korean National Police Agency that’s investigating the Itaewon tragedy said it was impossible to understand why prosecutors would reject its request to detain Choi Seong-beom, head of the Yongsan Fire Department, and demand a reinvestigation.
The team’s request to detain Choi is its latest attempt to lock up a key suspect in the Itaewon tragedy before they put them on trial.
While a local court ultimately decides whether to issue a pre-trial detention warrant, prosecutors have to formally ask them to issue the warrant.
In a rare show of friction, officers in the police investigation team told local media on Thursday that prosecutors asked them to add more details to their request to detain Choi by specifying what time the 158 people who died in the crowd were pronounced dead – which, according to police, only indicates how much prosecutors want to protect firefighters and save them from being tried in court.
“Only God would know the precise time the victims died,” a police officer said on the condition of anonymity. “Even prosecutors know well that it’s difficult to determine when they died.”
The officer added that it appeared prosecutors were stymying their investigation because President Yoon has publicly blamed police for failing to take preventive measures on the night of Oct. 29, when swarms of young revelers filled the streets of Itaewon in Yongsan District, central Seoul, to celebrate Halloween.
Police said they asked prosecutors to ask the court to detain Choi last Friday on allegations of failing to take preventive measures before the tragedy happened and botching rescue operations once reports were filed that people were being crushed.
Police accused Choi of “wasting” the golden time to save the victims because he allegedly did not hand down any orders for 40 minutes after arriving on the scene.
Prosecutors were said to have reviewed the police’s request to detain Choi and asked them on Wednesday to reinvestigate.
Prosecutors made no public comment about the police’s accusations.
Police said they would reinvestigate the allegations surrounding Choi to get him detained.
Police have in recent days begun zeroing in on firefighters after getting two senior police officers detained on similar charges last week.
Lee Im-jae, former head of the Yongsan Police Precinct, and Song Byeong-ju, former head of the Yongsan Police Precinct’s 112 emergency hotline situation room, were detained by the Seoul Western District Court.
Park Hee-young, head of the Yongsan District Office, and Choi Won-jun, head of the same district’s Safety and Disaster Division, were detained on Monday.
The mayor of Seoul, the new chief of the Yongsan Police Precinct and the head of the Yongsan Fire Department were summoned by the National Assembly on Thursday morning to answer questions about the Itaewon crowd crush from lawmakers in the Itaewon parliamentary probe team.
BY LEE CHANG-HOON, LEE SUNG-EUN [firstname.lastname@example.org]