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[Editorial] Dubious transaction

Group buys house for former sex slaves at high price, sells it at a loss

The Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan has come under fresh suspicion following allegations of misappropriating donations.

Its predecessor, the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, bought a two-story house in Anseong, Gyeonggi Province, in 2013.

The House of Peace and Healing was bought for survivors of Japanese military sexual slavery -- commonly known as “the grandmas” in South Korea and among their supporters throughout the world.

The purchase price was 750 million won ($612,000). It was hundreds of millions of won more expensive than the going rate in the surrounding area at that time. A similar house about 1 kilometer away, built in 2011, a year earlier than the House of Peace and Healing, sold for 200 million won in 2014.

Furthermore, the council spent as much as 100 million won to enhance the interior of the new house.

The money was part of 1 billion won donated by Hyundai Heavy Industries to the Community Chest of Korea in August 2012. When it donated the money, the company designated the donation for a project to secure space near the War and Women’s Human Rights Museum in Mapo, Seoul.

The council initially proposed to HHI that it would secure a site near the museum, but after receiving the donation and researching the market, it looked toward Anseong, a two-hour drive from Mapo.

It cited difficulty in finding a suitable house for 1 billion won. But real estate transaction data compiled by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport shows that several houses, similar in size to the house in Anseong and about 1 kilometer away from the museum, were sold for much less than 1 billion won at that time. It is questionable whether the council had adequate knowledge of housing prices in Mapo. One can only ask why it had to buy a much more expensive house.

The council put the house up for sale late last year and sold it for 420 million won last month -- about half of the purchase price, plus the interior design expenses. It incurred a significant loss. This transaction is hard to understand from the standpoint of common sense.

The house was sold April 23, a day after Lee Yong-soo, one of the grandmas, first criticized the council over its use of donations.

The transaction was led by Yoon Mi-hyang, who headed the council before being elected as a lawmaker affiliated with the ruling Democratic Party of Korea in the April 15 general elections.

Lee Kyu-min, a lawmaker-elect from the same party who represents Anseong, recommended the house to Yoon. Lee is said to be close to Yoon and her husband. In the 1980s, Lee and Yoon’s husband were reportedly political activists with a radical anti-American faction called the National Liberation.

One cannot but wonder why the council bought the house at such a high price after an acquaintance of Yoon’s suggested it.

The housing transaction needs to be probed in light of their close relationship.

The Anseong house was rarely used by the grandmas, according to nearby residents. It was once used by a women’s group, and the council used it for its own events. Users posted reviews of the place on the internet, suggesting it was a vacation property. They even left Yoon’s mobile phone number as a contact point for short-term rentals.

One of the grandmas told a local media outlet that she knew of the house only through TV. The council said the house was for the survivors, but it is unclear whether the group let the grandmas know about it.

The council was found to have spent nearly 20 million won a year on the house, and about 70 percent of that sum was reportedly paid to Yoon’s father for its upkeep. He received about 64 million won from January 2014 to June 2018.

Allegations surrounding Yoon and the council have piled up, but clues in the case are disappearing. Several internet posts were reportedly deleted. There are concerns about attempts to destroy evidence. A quick investigation by the prosecution is required.