The leader of the ruling Democratic Party has defended activist-turned-lawmaker-elect Yoon Mi-hyang, who came under fire over allegations of misappropriating funds during her years as head of an advocacy group that for many years has defended the rights of victims of Japanese wartime sexual slavery.
Democratic Party Chairman Lee Hae-chan said the 30-year-long campaign of the group -- the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan -- should not be subjected to political strife or malicious slander.
“If there was a mistake, it should be fixed and the person who is responsible for it should take responsibility. But those actions should be based on facts. (She) can’t succumb to suspicions (that) stemmed from doxxing,” Lee said.
The civic organization, which Yoon headed for a decade until March this year, is known for staging weekly street rallies in front of the former compound of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul every Wednesday since January 1992 to demand Tokyo offer a formal apology to former sex slaves.
Lee’s remarks came as the party is under increasing pressure to take sides on the controversy surrounding the newly elected lawmaker, who faces snowballing allegations of misusing funds donated by the public to support the elderly victims.
Yoon has been absent from public activities, including a party workshop held Wednesday ahead of the 21st National Assembly’s inaugural session May 30. She has denied all the allegations.
On Monday, former “comfort woman” Lee Yong-soo, 92, who ignited the controversy by criticizing the group for its “opaque” use of donations, held her second press conference and called for the council to be punished, accusing it of selling out the victims to raise donations.
Lee Na-young, incumbent head of the advocacy group, said Wednesday it will look back at itself to find fundamental reasons that caused delays in resolving the victims’ pain and problems.
“Watching Lee Yong-soo’s press conference was heartbreaking and I sincerely feel sorry. We all take her deep pain and resentment seriously,” she said.
Remarks from the survivor of wartime sex slavery and additional speculations have led some ruling party lawmakers to turn their backs on Yoon. Rep. Kim Hae-young called for an internal investigation, saying the party should not wait for prosecutors to launch a probe.
Rep. Park Yong-jin pressed Yoon to make her position clear. “It is not appropriate to keep mum on it,” he said.
The opposition bloc is also stepping up its pressure and calling for her resignation. The main opposition United Future Party officially launched a task force dedicated to the scandal Monday.
Rep. Ha Tae-keung of United Future Party said whom the ruling party leader should defend is elderly victims, not Yoon.
The main characters of the 30-year comfort women movement are comfort women victims including Lee Yong-soo. Yoon and the group are only supporting actors.”
The Seoul Western District Prosecutors’ Office is analyzing account books it obtained during a raid on the entity’s office last week.
On Tuesday, Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-yeol ordered a “thorough and swift” probe. Ten complaints have been filed against Yoon so far.
Some of the most serious allegations concern the purchase and running of a shelter for former sex slaves in Anseong, Gyeonggi Province, as well as the use of Yoon’s personal bank accounts to collect donations.
A poll by Realmeter showed Wednesday that over 70 percent of respondents think Yoon should step down from her parliamentary seat.
By Park Han-na (email@example.com