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Lawmaker-elect denies allegations of misusing funds raised for sex slavery victims

Lawmaker-elect Yoon Mi-hyang holds a press conference at the National Assembly on Friday. (Yonhap)
Lawmaker-elect Yoon Mi-hyang holds a press conference at the National Assembly on Friday. (Yonhap)

Yoon Mi-hyang, lawmaker-elect for the ruling Democratic Party and longtime activist for victims of Japan’s wartime sexual slavery, on Friday denied alleged misappropriation of donations raised for the victims.

Breaking silence after nearly weeks and one day before her four-year parliamentary term begins, Yoon apologized to the public for causing concerns, vowed to clarify suspicions and to serve as a lawmaker “responsibly.”

“It is a false claim that funds raised for the purpose of providing cash to the victims were not delivered (to the victims,)” said Yoon, who was elected to a proportional representative seat in the general election in April, at a press conference held in the National Assembly building.

Yoon became embroiled in controversy after Lee Yong-soo, 92, a surviving victim of Japan’s wartime sexual slavery, claimed that the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan and Yoon, its former president, used the victims to raise donations and did not use them for the victims.

After Lee’s revelation, a series of other allegations followed suit against Yoon and the civic group – from the civic group’s poor accounting practices, dubious purchase and running of a shelter for the victims to collection of donations through Yoon’s personal bank accounts.

There were also allegations that Yoon had been informed in advance of details of the controversial 2015 deal, under which Japan apologized to the victims and provided 1 billion yen ($9.4 million) to help the victims, but had not shared with the victims. She also faces suspicions that she blocked the elderly from receiving the money from Japan.

Yoon only admitted to receiving donations through her personal bank accounts and denied all other allegations.

“When the donations were not meant for all grandmothers (victims,) I raised them through my bank account. Using my personal account was a wrong judgement,” Yoon said. “But just because I raised donations through my bank account, that did not mean I had used them personally.”

The elderly victim also accused Yoon of leaving the organization and running for a parliamentary seat to serve her own interests without resolving the issue of “comfort women” – a euphemism for girls and women forced into prostitution for Japanese troops before and during World War II.

To Lee, Yoon said she is sorry for having failed to give her “trust” despite all the years they spent together.

“I will ask for her forgiveness. If she is willing to meet me, I will go meet her,” she said.

Yoon and the victim, who have been working together for nearly 30 years to raise awareness of the “comfort women” issue on the international forum, did meet at a hotel in Daegu last week, where Yoon reportedly asked for Lee’s forgiveness. Lee shed tears and gave Yoon a hug, but the victim later said that she had not forgiven Yoon.

The ruling Democratic Party said it will decide on its position on Yoon after watching the developments of the prosecution’s investigation.

The opposition bloc is also calling for her resignation. The main opposition United Future Party officially launched a related task force on Monday.

A poll by Realmeter showed earlier this week that 7 out of every 10 Koreans think Yoon should step down from her parliamentary seat.

The prosecution is investigating the allegations surrounding Yoon and the civic group after some 10 complaints were filed against them. Last week, prosecutors raided the office and other facilities run by the civic group and called in an employee in charge of the civic group’s accounting.

The new term of the parliament begins Saturday. Once a parliamentary session opens next Friday, Yoon gets a parliamentary privilege of being granted protection against criminal liability.

By Ock Hyun-ju (