Police in South Korea wrap up months long probe into Itaewon crush, 23 officials referred to prosecution

SEOUL: The police in South Korea have wrapped up a months long investigation Friday into the deadly crowd crush in capital Seoul's Itaewon neighbourhood last year, with 23 government officials referred to the prosecution on fatal professional negligence and other charges.

The special police investigation team concluded the crowd crush was a "man-made" disaster caused by authorities' failure to come up with disaster prevention measures and respond promptly to an emergency situation, reported Yonhap.

The crowd crush killed 159 people, many of them women in their 20s, on a narrow, sloped alley on Oct. 29 as a massive crowd packed the path. About 100,000 people were visiting the nightlife district for Halloween celebrations.

The 501-personnel investigation team went into operation on Nov 1 and had been looking into the district office and the police, fire and other related agencies in Yongsan, which administers Itaewon, to get to the bottom of the deadly accident.

The investigation team concluded that no proper emergency rescue or disaster control action was taken by each agency in accordance with relevant guidelines for emergency situations, leading to the high death toll.

Among those referred to the prosecution with detention were Yongsan Ward office chief Park Hee-young and former Yongsan Police Station chief Lee Im-jae, both on charges of professional negligence resulting in death.

Four other police and Yongsan Ward officials were also referred to the prosecution with detention, including a former Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency (SMPA) official charged with deleting internal reports warning of Halloween overcrowding and a possible safety accident.

SMPA chief Kim Kwang-ho, two other SMPA officers in charge of emergency monitoring, Yongsan Fire Station chief Choi Seong-beom, the chief of the Yongsan community health center and the chief of the Itaewon Subway Station were also among those referred to the prosecution without detention on fatal professional negligence or other charges connected to the bungled response.

Following the transfer of the cases, prosecutors are expected to conduct further investigation for potential indictments to decide whether to have them stand trial.

The police investigation team, meanwhile, decided not to hold any officials from the interior ministry, the Seoul city government or the national police agency accountable for the deadly accident, concluding those bodies are not legally responsible for crowd control duties.– BERNAMA

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