He was the target of a nationwide manhunt, but South Korean authorities have now confirmed businessman Yoo Byung-un has been found dead.
Yoo headed the family that owned the operator of the Sewol ferry, which capsized in April killing more than 300 people, most of them children.
The corpse was discovered over a month ago in a plum orchard in the south of the country.
A book written by Yoo was found at the site, according to Suncheon police chief Woo Hyung-ho, along with an empty bottle of a shark liver oil product made by a Yoo family company.
However, the body was not identified straightaway; it had decayed by up to 80 percent and police did not immediately recognise the significance of the two items.
“We didn’t know at the time it was a book written by Yoo,” Woo said. “We admit, we were not perfect.”
Police said the death didn’t appear to have been caused by foul play.
The announcement of the discovery came less than a day after prosecutors apologised for failing to capture Yoo. President Park Geun-hye’s government has comer under fire for its handling of South Korea’s worst maritime disaster in 20 years.
On the same day as the apology, a court also issued a fresh arrest warrant for the tycoon. He was wanted on charges of embezzlement, negligence and tax evasion.
The Sewol’s 15 surviving crew members are currently on trial for charges ranging from negligence to homicide.
Get a different perspective
Every story can be told in many ways: see the perspectives from Euronews journalists in our other language teams.