Korean prosecutors indict former head of comfort women support group

18-Sep-2020 Intellasia | JapanNews | 6:02 AM Print This Post

South Korean public prosecutors have indicted without arrest lawmaker Yoon Mee-hyang over allegations that money donated to an organisation to support former so-called comfort women was misused.

Yoon, 55, is a member of the Democratic Party of Korea. Prosecutors indicted her Monday on charges including fraud and misappropriating money entrusted to “the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan.” The indictment is a serious blow to the administration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in and the ruling party, who have defended Yoon since May, when the allegations surfaced.

Prosecutors indicted her on a total of eight charges in connection with 10 incidents alleged to have occurred over 10 years.

The cases include the alleged misappropriation of donations in which a total of about 100 million won (about Japanese yen 9 million) was embezzled from money nominally for the support of former comfort women. They also include an alleged quasi fraud in which a former comfort woman suffering from dementia was manipulated into donating a total of 79.2 million won (about Japanese yen 7 million) to the Korean Council.

Regarding the large amounts of public subsidies that the Korean Council had received, prosecutors believe that a total of 367.5 million won (about Japanese yen 32 million) was involved in fraud or spent for unintended uses.

Prosecutors have also brought a charge of job-related breach of trust over a case in which the Korean Council purchased a building as a rest home for former comfort women at a higher price than the average market value of surrounding properties.

The prosecutors uncovered the haphazard nature of the transaction, in which the Korean Council did not check the market price of nearby real estate but instead purchased the building at the price asked by the seller, who had been introduced to them by an acquaintance of Yoon’s.

The Korean Council is an organisation meant to support the daily lives of former comfort women and to conduct public relations activities about the issue. Yoon had served as the council’s top official for about 15 years from 2005, and thus had been seen as a symbol of the support efforts.

She strongly opposed the 2015 Japan-South Korea agreement, which stipulates that the comfort women issue would be resolved “finally and irreversibly,” and has been deeply engaged in the South Korean government’s policy toward Japan on the issue.

It is therefore believed to be inevitable that the indictment will affect the future activities of Yoon and the Korean Council.

The prosecutors also revealed some of the methods through which Yoon allegedly embezzled donations, taking advantage of the system of support for former comfort women. They allege, for example, that she misappropriated part of the money in a personal bank account, claiming that it was for such things as condolence money for deceased former comfort women, and submitted receipts of her personal spending as those for job-related expenditures.

The problems surfaced when former comfort woman Lee Yong-soo, 91, revealed the wrongdoing at a press conference. “I was completely used” by Yoon, the elderly woman said.

Monday’s indictments appear to be supported by the prosecutors’ investigation of Lee’s claims.

On Monday, Yoon issued a statement saying, “I will prove my innocence at a court trial.” She denied misappropriating money for her personal use, as well as the other allegations.

About the suspicion of cheating the former comfort woman with dementia, Yoon said, “This claim ignores the mental and physical independence of the elderly woman and insults the victims of the comfort women system.”

Problems were also recently discovered with the House of Sharing, a similar organisation that is as well known as the Korean Council. According to joint investigations by the public and private sectors in August, the House of Sharing is alleged to have misappropriated most of the donations for five years since 2015.

This series of money scandals has rocked the foundations of support organisations’ activities.

According to South Korea’s public offices election law and other legislation, Yoon maintains her status as a national lawmaker until a ruling of imprisonment or heavier punishment is finalised.

President Moon, who has prioritised benefits for the victims, has only emphasized the importance of supporting former comfort women. He has continued to defend Yoon.

South Korea’s opposition parties intend to pursue the Moon administration’s responsibility for the scandals. Thus, the administration and the ruling party will have to manage parliamentary affairs while containing potential danger points.



Category: Korea

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