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[Editorial] Youn on trial

Questionable if probe was thorough; apology least the ruling party owes

The prosecution on Monday indicted Rep. Youn Mee-hyang of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, on charges of embezzling funds for elderly victims of wartime sexual slavery.

She faces eight counts of embezzlement, fraud and related charges.

Many suspicions swirled around her and an advocacy group she led for the women who were taken into front-line Japanese military brothels during World War II. Korea was a Japanese colony at that time.

She has denied all of the suspicions, but the results of the prosecution investigation are pointing the opposite way.

They show a shameless double face she wore as chair of the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan. The council touts itself as a human rights group for the former euphemistically labeled “comfort women,” commonly referred to as grandmas here. People donated to the group, while the government offered support funds.

According to prosecutors, Youn embezzled more than 100 million won ($84,000) that should have been spent on the grandmas.

She accepted 330 million won in condolence money for deceased grandmas through her personal bank accounts, and purportedly used 57 million won of it personally.

Youn allegedly misappropriated about 42 million won from operating expenses of the council and its shelter for grandmas. She unlawfully received more than 360 million won in government support funds.

She made Grandma Gil Won-ok, who suffers serious Alzheimer’s, donate 79.2 million won of 100 million won she received in women’s rights award prize money to the council.

Suspicions around Youn were triggered by Grandma Lee Yong-soo’s revelation that “Youn and the council used grandmas for 30 years to line their own pockets.”

Then Youn treated Lee as a dementia patient. As suspicions raised by news media piled up, she denounced them as part of a “pro-Japanese plot.”

The prosecution did not buy her refutation, but believed the grandmas.

In an atmosphere where it has become hard to expect the prosecution to investigate those in power, the Seoul Western District Prosecutors’ Office tried to fulfill its duty by indicting the ruling party lawmaker. But it is questionable if they investigated strictly and exhaustively. Suspicions regarding her purchase of an apartment and her transaction of a shelter for grandmas do not seem to have been thoroughly investigated.

Youn and her associates monopolized Korea’s movement for grandmas for three decades to line their pockets. A couple who sat on the board of the council are said to have earned more than 3 billion won by monopolizing the making of comfort women statues.

In a statement after the indictment, Youn blamed the prosecution for “insulting grandmas.” She said that she believed the people would stay with her to resolve issues on the former comfort women.

The council said that “the indictment has an ulterior motive to disgrace not only the movement but also activities of surviving grandmas.”

Youn and the council tried to define the indictment as suppression of their movement for former comfort women. But this is delusional.

Grandma Lee said that “nothing is regrettable” about the indictment, and that “the Youn case is a matter for the court to decide.” To grandmas, the indictment is no insult to them. Youn herself disgraced the movement.

Grandmas are victims of wartime sex slavery, a tragic incident in Korean history. It was difficult to dare question the cause of helping them. Youn and the council used this point to their advantage. Even after Youn was indicted, they still argue as if they are justice itself. This shows their blind faith in themselves and an attempt to conceal their wrongdoing.

Youn vowed to “prove my innocence at a trial while doing my share as a lawmaker.” But in a situation where she was indicted over her lack of ethics, it is questionable if it is proper for her to stay on as a lawmaker.

When suspicions mounted, ruling party lawmakers covered up for her. They dismissed the notion as an offensive by a pro-Japanese force to disparage the council’s movement. Their avid supporters even insulted Grandma Lee, saying she was behaving like a collaborator with Japanese raiders. They must apologize.