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Seoul police chief charged over deadly Halloween crush

By Agence France-Presse Published Jan 21, 2024 9:45 am

Seoul's chief of police has been charged with professional negligence over the deadly 2022 Halloween crush that killed nearly 160 people, prosecutors in the South Korean capital said. 

On October 29, 2022, tens of thousands of people—mostly in their 20s and 30s—had been out to enjoy post-pandemic holiday celebrations in Seoul's Itaewon nightlife district.

But the night turned deadly when people poured into a narrow, sloping alleyway between bars and clubs, the weight of their bodies and a lack of effective crowd control leaving more than 150 crushed to death. 

Kim Kwang-ho, head of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, was charged with professional negligence resulting in injury or death, Seoul's Western District Prosecutors' Office said in a statement released Friday.

As the chief of the SMPA, he "did not take necessary measures, such as deploying sufficient police forces and ensuring proper command and supervision" on the day of the crush, the statement said, although he was able to "foresee potential dangers arising" from overcrowding in the nightlife area.

Kim, the highest-ranking police official to face trial over the tragedy, was charged without detention.

In January last year, Kim and 22 other officials from the police, rescue and district offices were forwarded to the prosecution by a special police investigation team for their alleged involvement in the government's mishandling of the crush.

Prosecutors subsequently charged the heads of the police station in Seoul's Yongsan district, which includes Itaewon, and the Yongsan Ward office, but had been undecided about charging Kim for over a year.

Friday's statement said Kim, "along with the chief of the Yongsan Police Station and the head of the Yongsan Ward office who are currently on trial, collectively caused the deaths of 158 individuals and injuries to 312 individuals as a result of professional negligence".

Families of the victims said they regretted the prosecution's lengthy decision-making process before charging Kim.

"Chief Kim must immediately step down from his position and face trial," the families said in a statement.

"President Yoon Suk Yeol must dismiss Kim immediately."

South Korea's rapid transformation from a war-torn country to Asia's fourth-largest economy and a global cultural powerhouse is a source of national pride.

But a series of preventable disasters—such as the 2022 crush and the 2014 Sewol ferry sinking that killed 304 people—has shaken public confidence in authorities. (AFP)