South Korean police have handed over to prosecutors the results of an investigation into a deadly stampede in Seoul’s Itaewon district that took place on Halloween last year, and charges of professional negligence with a fatal outcome and other charges were filed against 23 officials.
The stampede occurred on Halloween on October 29 in the Itaewon area, where about 100,000 people came. As a result, 159 people died, including foreign citizens. A special investigation team of 501 police officers began work on 1 November. The local authorities of the district, police, fire departments and other institutions of Yongsan County, where Itaewon is located, were subjected to verification. The investigation team concluded that none of the departments took proper measures to rescue citizens in an emergency, which led to a large number of deaths.
Yongsan District Chief Park Hee-young, who was fired from his post as Yongsan Police Chief Lee Im-jae, was charged with professional negligence resulting in death and detention. Four local police officers were also arrested, one of them, a former member of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency (SMPA), charged with deleting internal reports warning of high crowd density in the area on Halloween and the possibility of an accident.
Charges were brought against the head of the SMPA and two other officials in charge of emergency monitoring, the head of the local fire department, the head of the Yongsan Public Health Center, and the head of the Itaewon subway station without detention.
A total of 23 officials were charged. Further investigation will be carried out after the transfer of cases to the prosecutor’s office.
The opposition United Democratic Party demanded that President Yoon Seok-yeol fire Interior Minister Lee Sang-min as a measure of responsibility for the stampede, but the government refused, and the police decided not to prosecute any officials from the Ministry of Interior, Seoul City Government or the National Police Department, concluding that these bodies are not legally responsible for crowd control.
Opposition parties have said that the investigation as a whole was an attempt by higher officials to “cut off the tail”, noting that the head of the interior ministry, the mayor of Seoul or the head of the police, not only were not called for questioning, but did not even give written evidence. The parties say the parliamentary inquiry into the tragedy found “clearly” neglect and negligence by Interior Minister Lee Sang-min. The opposition demands the creation of a special group in the prosecutor’s office and an appropriate investigation.