Prosecutors take over Itaewon tragedy probe and raid 10 sites
Prosecutors raided the Yongsan Police Station, Yongsan District Office, Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency and National Police Agency Tuesday in their investigation of the Itaewon crowd crush tragedy.
The Seoul Western District Prosecutors’ Office said Tuesday morning that it searched 10 locations that held some responsibility for safety management on the night of the tragedy on Oct. 29 that killed 158 people and led to the suicide of a teen who survived.
Prosecutors are following up on a police probe. A special investigation team under the National Police Agency is scheduled to wrap up its investigation this week.
Police arrested 10 key suspects including Yongsan District Office Park Hee-young and ex-chief of the Yongsan Police Precinct Lee Im-jae and recommended their prosecution.
Park and Lee are accused of professional negligence resulting in manslaughter.
Other arrested individuals include Park Sung-min, former head of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency’s bureau of intelligence on public peace and security, and Kim Jin-ho, a former intelligence officer at the Yongsan Police Precinct, who are accused of destruction of evidence related to the Itaewon disaster.
Park is suspected of ordering the deletion of an internal intelligence report giving advance warnings of safety concerns during the Halloween period in what is seen as a cover-up attempt. Kim is accused of getting his subordinates to delete the report on Park’s instructions.
Other arrested individuals include Song Byung-joo, head of the Yongsan Police Precinct’s 112 emergency hotline, Yoo Seung-jae, deputy chief of the Yongsan District Office, Choi Won-jun, head of the district office’s safety and disaster division, and Moon In-hwan, head of the office’s safety, construction and transportation division.
Tuesday’s raids were the first for prosecutors since taking over the investigation from police.
The prosecution is also reportedly in the process of acquiring data related to allegations of deleting of documents from the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s public peace and security division and the Yongsan Police Precinct’s intelligence division.
Tuesday’s search also included the National Police Agency’s intranet server and the Yongsan District Office chief’s secretariat and public relations department.
Prosecutors are expected to investigate whether there were any higher-level authority figures who may have had a part in the botched response on the night of the tragedy.
The police investigation last week said it will not likely be recommending charges against officials of the Interior Ministry or the Seoul Metropolitan Government after determining that the responsibility for the disaster lies with local authorities rather than the central or city governments.
On Tuesday, a separate special parliamentary probe into the Itaewon disaster held a hearing at the National Assembly and received recommendations from four experts in the field of medicine and emergency response on ways to improve future disaster responses. The experts were recommended by the main parties.
Some experts recommend more support for disaster medical assistance teams (DMAT) and firefighting departments and to give them actual authority in emergency situations.
On the same day, the People Power Party (PPP) and Democratic Party (DP) agreed to hold a third round of hearings on Thursday to be attended by families of victims, survivors and Itaewon merchants.
BY SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]