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Pioneer in ‘comfort women’ advocacy under scrutiny for corruption

Prosecution set to investigate activist-lawmaker on embezzlement allegations

The bronze statue of a girl representing victims of Japanese World War II-era sexual slavery stands in front of the former site of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. (Yonhap)
The bronze statue of a girl representing victims of Japanese World War II-era sexual slavery stands in front of the former site of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. (Yonhap)

The prosecution is set to probe corruption allegations against Yoon Mi-hyang, a lawmaker-elect from the ruling Democratic Party and a longtime activist for the rights of victims of Japanese wartime sexual slavery.

The Seoul Western District Prosecutors’ Office on Tuesday assigned the case involving Yoon, former president of the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, to a criminal division for direct investigation.

A handful of complaints have been filed against Yoon with the prosecution in recent days, amid a flurry of local media reports accusing her of misusing donations from the public meant to support the past victims.

Yoon left the civic group, which she headed since 2008, in March this year to run as a proportional representative lawmaker in the April general election.

The allegations against Yoon first emerged after former comfort woman Lee Yong-soo, 92, publicly criticized the group for its “opaque” use of donations.

The rift between Lee, one of the most prominent victims, and the group invited intense scrutiny by conservative media and political factions. Yoon has faced allegations of a series of wrongdoings. Among them, she is accused of using donations to buy a comfort women community home at an inflated price and hiring her father to manage it. She is also suspected of embezzling donations to purchase her personal apartment in 2012.

Yoon apologized for hiring her father as caretaker of the facility in Anseong, Gyeonggi Province, but denied embezzlement accusations. She also refused to forgo her parliamentary membership.

On Tuesday, the main opposition United Future Party said it plans to seek a parliamentary probe into the allegations when the 21st National Assembly begins late this month.

“A probe into Yoon Mi-hyang should be carried out because it is a demand from citizens. … I expect the Democratic Party’s active participation,” the party’s chief deputy floor leader Kim Sung-won said.

If the Democratic Party accepts the proposal, it will mark the first parliamentary probe since the late-2016 investigation into former President Park Geun-hye’s influence-peddling scandal that brought down her presidency and put her behind bars.

Without the Democratic Party’s consent, it is impossible to launch a probe as the opposition group and its satellite party captured 103 seats, well short of the 150-seat majority in the April elections.

United Future Party’s floor spokeswoman Bae Hyun-jin later toned down Kim’s remarks, saying the idea was not officially endorsed by the party, and Kim said so to show the group’s willingness to take such an action.

The ruling group appears to have come under pressure amid snowballing accusation and public uproar involving Yoon.

“We are discussing the matter with the party while monitoring it stringently,” Lee Nak-yeon of the party said on Monday.

By Park Han-na (