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New Sewol investigation team vows neutrality

Nov 12,2019
The head of a special prosecution team looking into the 2014 Sewol ferry sinking vowed Monday to maintain political neutrality in efforts to uncover all truths behind one of the country’s worst maritime disasters.

Earlier in the day, the state prosecutors’ office launched the team with a mission to determine the exact cause of the ferry sinking that killed more than 300 and probe any mishandling by the conservative government’s rescue operations.

Im Kwan-hyeuk, named to lead the task force, pledged every effort to find the truth behind the disaster so that the results of its probe can be conclusive. The Sewol incident has been a source of ideological and political discord amid a controversy over whether the administration of then-President Park Geun-hye responded to it swiftly and properly. Park, once a darling of South Korea’s political right, was later impeached due to her involvement in a corruption scandal along with her longtime friend, Choi Soon-sil.

“There cannot be political considerations, and [we] will carry out the probe with an attitude to clear up all suspicions,” Im told a press briefing.

He said his team will investigate the tragedy thoroughly as if they were writing a related “white paper.”

Im is leading the prosecution office in Ansan, Gyeonggi, home to most of the victims, who were students of Danwon High School.

The 6,800-ton ferry sank in waters off the country’s southwestern coast on April 16, 2014, killing 304 of 476 passengers. Most of the victims were high school students on a school trip to the southern resort island of Jeju.

Many people still believe the truth behind the tragedy has not been fully determined, condemning the former Park Geun-hye government’s botched search and rescue operations.

The special investigative team is expected to look into suspicions raised by families of the victims and an independent inquiry panel.

In late October, the panel criticized the government’s delayed response in rescuing victims as it obtained evidence showing a belated mobilization of helicopters for the rescue.

An association of the victims’ families plans to file a complaint against 122 officials apparently responsible for the incident on Friday.

A related list includes the now-ousted former President Park and then-Justice Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, who now heads the main opposition Liberty Korea Party.

Yonhap