Two senior intelligence officers suspected of ordering the deletion of an internal intelligence report warning of a possible crowd surge in Itaewon on Oct. 29 were arrested Monday.
An arrest warrant for Lee Im-jae, former Yongsan police chief, was rejected by the Seoul Western District Court on Monday night.
The court opened deliberations at 2 p.m. Monday on arrests of four senior police officers suspected of failing to properly respond to the Itaewon crowd crush on Oct. 29 that killed 158 people, including Lee; Song Byung-joo, former 112 emergency monitoring officer; Park Sung-min, a former senior intelligence officer at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency; and Kim Jin-ho, a former intelligence officer at the Yongsan Police Station.
A National Police Agency special investigation unit dedicated to the Itaewon tragedy asked for the arrests of all four on Dec. 1.
The court issued warrants for Park and Kim on Monday night, citing the possibility they might destroy evidence. These were the first arrests in the Itaewon tragedy. As of Tuesday, 16 people out of 21 questioned by the special investigation unit have been charged with professional negligence.
The court denied arrest warrants for Lee and Song, citing the low chance of officers’ attempts to destroy evidence or run away.
Park is suspected of ordering an internal intelligence report to be deleted from a group chat with intelligence officers, including Kim. The report warned about possible dangers during Halloween celebrations in Itaewon.
Kim is suspected of ordering a subordinate to delete the internal intelligence report following Park’s order.
Lee is suspected of having failed to take precautionary measures even though large crowds were expected in Itaewon and failing to respond properly after the deadly crash.
Song is being investigated for a possible failure to take appropriate measures after receiving 112 reports that warned of a crowd crush.
The special investigative unit is facing criticism for not arresting anyone in the case.
It is not known if the investigation team will refile their requests for arrest warrants for Lee and Song.
An attorney for Song told the JoongAng Ilbo that Song “had explained the difficulty of recognizing the seriousness of the situation through police radio on site.”
A police investigation is also underway into the role of the Seoul Metro on the night of the disaster.
The head of metro services and safety center of Dongmyo is suspected of ignoring a superior’s order to consider having trains pass through Itaewon Station without stopping on Oct. 29.
The special investigation unit questioned the Seoul Metro official on Monday.