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Maritime officials interfered with Sewol investigation panel: ministry

All News 16:51 December 12, 2017

SEJONG, Dec. 12 (Yonhap) -- The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries said Tuesday it will ask prosecutors to look into allegations that its officials interfered with an independent panel's probe into the cause of the deadly sinking of the Sewol ferry.

The panel was set up in 2015 under a special law enacted to determine why the 6,800-ton ship capsized in waters off the southwest coast in 2014, killing more than 300 people, mostly high school students.

The panel, composed of maritime experts, lawyers and civilians, delved into government documents and prosecution reports and gathered evidence, but its activities were limited as it was not authorized to subpoena or prosecute government officials.

A funeral car passes by the wreck of the Sewol ferry at Mokpo port, 410 kilometers south of Seoul, on Nov. 18, 2017. (Yonhap)

Ryu Jae-hyung, the ministry's internal auditor, said former officials in charge of salvaging the Sewol did not accept the advice from six law firms or the Ministry of Government Legislation and arbitrarily shortened the panel's activity period.

Under the Park Geun-hye administration, the salvage team also made a report in late 2015 on how to make the fact-finding body's activities fizzle out in an attempt to conceal the government's mishandling of the initial rescue operations, Ryu said.

The ministry said it will request the prosecution look into the related allegations and noted that around 10 ministry officials will be subject to investigation.

In response to the panel's probe result, which failed to meet public expectations, the National Assembly passed a special law last month to launch a new committee with greater authority to re-investigate the disaster.

"Due to limitations in the internal audit, the second special investigative committee will look into other allegations related to the Sewol salvage operation," Ryu said in a briefing. "We will actively cooperate if (the committee) launches an investigation."

The wreck was raised from the bottom of the sea in June and put into dry dock at a local port in Mokpo, 410 kilometers south of Seoul.


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