The Korea Herald


Itaewon probe widens scope

By Im Eun-byel

Published : Nov. 13, 2022 - 15:33

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Flowers are laid at the scene of the crowd surge in Itaewon, Sunday. (Yonhap) Flowers are laid at the scene of the crowd surge in Itaewon, Sunday. (Yonhap)

After zeroing in on police leadership, the special investigation team set up by the National Police Agency to look into the causes behind the Itaewon tragedy that took the lives of at least 157 people, is now looking into the response of related authorities.

The division said Sunday it will bring in officials from the Yongsan-gu Office and Seoul Metro to testify to how they responded to the tragedy.

The team deems that the Yongsan-gu Office failed its duty for disaster control as a local government. The team is also looking into why Seoul Metro did not order subway trains to bypass Itaewon Station to adjust the traffic volume in the area.

Though Seoul Metro claims it never received any request for bypassing Itaewon Station before the incident from police, police claim to have requested the bypass and been turned down by Seoul Metro.

With a Yongsan police officer under investigation in connection to the Itaewon tragedy being found dead Friday, the division’s investigation into police may have its limitations.

A Yongsan police officer identified by the surname Jeong was found dead at his home in Seoul, Friday. The officer, who was part of the intelligence team, faced allegations that he was involved in deleting a report proposing concerns about safety measures in Itaewon during the Halloween period.

Prior to the Itaewon tragedy, an intelligence official at the Yongsan Police Station wrote a report on Oct. 26 calling for more support for crowd management out of concern of a possible safety accident happening in Itaewon as crowds were expected to gather in the area during Halloween festivities over the weekend.

After the incident happened, the head of the intelligence team ordered the official to delete the report. Though the official initially refused, the report was eventually deleted.

The division suspects Jeong persuaded the official to delete the report under the order of the head of the intelligence team.

Without a statement from Jeong, it will be difficult for the special investigation division to prove the charge of destruction of evidence regarding the deletion of the report.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Lee Sang-min has been mired in controversy once again for inappropriate remarks concerning the Itaewon tragedy.

“Who would not want to fashionably throw out a letter of resignation and be done with all this situation?” Lee said in an interview with local newspaper Joongang Ilbo when asked about his responsibilities regarding the incident. He further explained, “But that is not the duty for the people or the responsible attitude of a high-ranking public official.”

Lee’s comment, however, has been met with dissatisfaction from the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea.

"I am devastated and enraged,” Rep. Kang Min-jung wrote on social media.

“The people are calling for the interior minister to step down from his post as he lacks qualification, but with eyes and ears closed, he is insisting on leading post-accident management, getting to the bottom of the incident and making preventive measures,” Kang wrote.

Earlier this month, Lee issued a public apology for his remarks where he claimed the accident would have occurred even with a larger police presence in Itaewon.