23 officers face charges after deadly mass panic in Seoul
Two and a half months ago, a stampede during Halloween celebrations in Seoul killed 160 people — now nearly two dozen officers face involuntary manslaughter and other charges.
Son Je Han, head of a special police investigation team, presents the results of the months-long investigation into the Seoul tragedy. Photo: Kim In-Chul/Yonhap via AP/dpa
The case had been handed over to the public prosecutor for further investigation, a special team of the South Korean police said on Friday after weeks of investigations. A lack of safety precautions and other omissions contributed to the high number of victims.
“A misjudgment of the situation, a delayed forwarding of information, a lack of cooperation between the responsible authorities and delayed rescue measures came together,” said team leader Son Je Han in Seoul. This led to the many deaths of the “man-made catastrophe”.
The accident happened as tens of thousands of people packed into the Itaewon entertainment district for unorganized Halloween parties. In the crowd in a narrow, sloping side street, numerous people fell to the ground, suffocated, were crushed or kicked to death. The Ministry of the Interior announced in early January that a young person who survived the accident and later took his own life was officially counted among the fatalities.
Shortly after the tragedy, the authorities were accused of not having done enough to prevent the disaster. Of the total of 23 people against whom the public prosecutor’s office is to investigate, 6 are already in custody. They include head of the affected Yongsan district, Park Hee Young, and former district police station chief, Lee Im Jae.
The police team said Interior Minister Lee Sang Min, Seoul Mayor Oh Se Hoon and Police Chief Yoon Hee Keun could not be held responsible for the tragedy. The opposition and the families of the victims had called for investigations into high-ranking officials and for the interior minister to be fired.