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[Editorial] Uncover truth

Accounting suspicions hit group for victims of Japan’s wartime sex slavery

An advocacy group for Korean victims of Japan’s wartime sex slavery is mired in suspicions that it may have misappropriated donations.

The Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan denied allegations by Lee Yong-soo, a 92-year-old victim of the slavery.

But it refused to disclose details of donation expenditures, despite Lee’s revelations of its opaque use of money. Lee dropped a bombshell when she said she had been deceived by the council and that she has been in the dark about where donations were used.

If the council is open and honorable, there is no reason to refuse to disclose expenditures in detail.

Rather, it countered, saying, “Which civic group on earth discloses details of donations and expenditures?”

It is doubtful whether it has any common sense. Is transparency the life of nongovernmental organizations?

According to the council’s account data posted on the National Tax Service, expenditures paid to the victims amounted to merely 4.3 percent and 5.8 percent of its donation income in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

In 2018, the council spent 33.39 million won ($27,000) on a fund-raising project in a beerhouse. However, the beerhouse reportedly received 9.72 million won in sales and donated 5.42 million won left after subtracting 4.3 million won in actual expenses from the sales.

That means that the council exaggerated the expenditure by nearly 700 percent. It explained that it had recorded the total expenditures on similar events held in 2018 under the same account, titled beerhouse. Few would understand this way of accounting.

According to its 2019 expenditure data, the council reported about 11.7 million won as expenses paid to a funeral service company, but the company is said to have offered the service free of charge for the victims for years.

These suspicions naturally call into question the money spent privately by Yoon Mi-hyang, the previous president of the council.

Yoon and her husband are estimated to earn about 50 million won together a year by inference from their income tax filings.

Her daughter currently majors in piano at a US state university whose annual tuition is said to reach $40,000 for non-US citizens. It’s generally thought to cost 70 million won to 80 million won a year, including living expenses, for a Korean to study at the university.

Yoon said in an interview that her daughter chose a US university because it offered a full scholarship. After news media noted that US state universities seldom offer scholarships to foreign undergraduates, Yoon changed her story.

She said she raised the expenses from compensation and damages her husband had received for serving a jail term on charges of violating the National Security Law and being found partially not guilty in a retrial. Is this explanation reliable?

The Kim Bok Dong Scholarship was awarded to children of social and labor activists this year. The scholarship was launched in honor of the late Kim Bok Dong, another victim, who donated 50 million won to the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, the predecessor of the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan. Kim hoped the scholarship fund would benefit “students attending schools founded by Korean residents in Japan after Korea gained independence from Japan’s colonial occupation.”

The scholarship was given to students attending such schools in Japan, as Kim wished. She died in January 2019. Then the council reportedly expanded the scholarship in March 2019 and created a separate scholarship only for “children of Korean social activists.”

Last year, two students belonging to the progressive group of university students, whose members scaled the wall of the US ambassador’s residence, were among recipients of the scholarship.

The council says it followed Kim’s wish, but it remains mum about related documents, such as her will or suspicions surrounding the scholarship.

It begrudged the raising of suspicions. “People are harsh on us. Why aren’t they making similar demands to companies?” the council said, “We hope people will look back upon their behavior of degrading us and hurting activists.”

The supreme virtues of nonprofit civic groups are morality and transparency. Before complaining against people and news media, it must look back on whether it used the historical issue politically or for personal gains of its activists. Yoon won a proportional representation seat of the National Assembly as a candidate of the ruling party’s sister party in April.

If the council and Yoon want to keep their sincerity from being tainted, the best way is for them to reveal the truth transparently.