Building owner, manager arrested in South Korea

SEOUL: South Korean police have arrested the owner and the manager of a building where 29 people died in a fire last week, accusing the pair of multiple safety lapses, including blocked exits and malfunctioning sprinkler systems.
On Thursday, a fire ripped through an eight-storey high-rise in the small city of Jecheon. At least 20 of the victims were women who were overcome by toxic fumes in a second-floor sauna.
Jecheon police have only identified the owner by his last name of Lee, and the manager by his last name of Kim.
Both men are in custody in Jecheon after being arrested on Sunday, police announced on Tuesday.
Lee faces two charges of violating fire safety regulations and committing involuntary homicide by professional negligence, while Kim also faces the involuntary homicide charge.
If convicted of involuntary homicide, Lee and Kim could face up to five years in prison or 20 million won ($16,000) in fines.
“The sprinkler system on the building’s first floor did not work properly when the fire erupted,” a police detective, who asked not to be named as he was not authorised to speak on an ongoing investigation, said.
“If the sprinkler system worked, the fire probably would not have spread as fast as it did.”
Police said on Tuesday that Lee has retained a lawyer but declined to name the lawyer or firm. Police said Kim has not yet hired a lawyer.
Photos released by the Yonhap news agency showed a smoke-stained stairwell and a fire exit filled with shelves and supplies on the second floor, where most of the deaths occurred.
“The emergency exit on the building’s second floor was blocked by iron shelves and other miscellaneous items,” the detective confirmed.
According to police, both Kim and Lee had denied reports they were trying to remove ice on the ceiling of the first floor, where the fire appeared to have originated, but later changed their statements after police confronted them with evidence. — Reuters