South Korea Court Convicts Three in Case Tied to Halloween Crush in Itaewon


A South Korean court on Wednesday found three former police officers guilty of destroying evidence indicating that the police had been aware of the safety risks at Halloween festivities in Seoul before a deadly crowd crush that shocked the nation in 2022.

The officers were the first officials to be convicted of crimes related to the event, in which nearly 160 people were killed, making it one of the worst peacetime disasters in the country’s history. They were found guilty of destroying evidence, including deleting an internal report that warned of the possibility of accidents during Halloween celebrations.

A Seoul district court sentenced Park Seong-min, who was a senior official at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, to 18 months in prison. Kim Jin-ho, a former official at Yongsan Police Station, received a suspended one-year sentence. Kwak Young-seok, a former officer at Yongsan Police Station, was handed a four-month suspended sentence. Lawyers for the former officers could not be immediately reached for comment.

The court found that Mr. Park had ordered Mr. Kim and his subordinates to erase the documents out of concern that the records, if leaked by investigators or the media, would lead to the police being held criminally liable for the disaster.

On the night of Oct. 29, 2022, police stations in Seoul received dozens of calls from panicked witnesses who feared an impending crowd crush on the streets of Itaewon, a neighborhood known for its bars and clubs, where people were celebrating Halloween.

It took officers hours to reach the site after the initial calls, according to an initial investigation. By then, hundreds of people were squeezed into a narrow, sloping alleyway, crushing others. After the disaster, many South Koreans rallied around grieving family members who demanded the officials be held responsible.

The convictions stem from an investigation last year, led by the National Police Agency, into which officials were responsible for what happened that night. Officials recommended that 23 people should be indicted in connection with the incident. After being dismissed from their posts and arrested in 2022, the three officers were among those that the investigators blamed for causing the tragedy.

Last month, Kim Kwang-ho, the head of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, was indicted on a charge of contributing to the crush through negligence. He is the most senior official to face criminal charges related to the crowd crush. If convicted, he could face up to five years in prison or a fine of up to $15,000.

Since the crowd crush, President Yoon Suk Yeol’s administration has continuously faced criticism and demands from the public to take responsibility for the disaster. Many have viewed the government’s response as inadequate, saying that it had not apologized for what had happened.

Mr. Yoon further set off public anger last month when he vetoed a bill, which lawmakers in the National Assembly had passed, that would have appointed a special prosecutor to begin an independent investigation into the disaster, and instead offered financial compensation to the bereaved families of the victims.


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