Lee Yong-soo, 92, who was taken as a sex slave for Imperial Japanese soldiers during World War II, held a press conference Monday.
She urged the prosecution to investigate Yoon Mi-hyang, the former leader of an advocacy group for the survivors of Japanese military sexual slavery -- the former “comfort women,” known to their supporters simply as the grandmas. Lee argued that Yoon and the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan “sold out the victims to raise donations for about 30 years.”
The suspicions against Yoon have snowballed. The council omitted as much as 3.7 billion won ($3 million) in donations and government subsidies from its books. Yoon used her personal bank accounts to receive donations on 11 occasions. She sometimes collected donations without clarifying how they would be spent. But the council has rarely passed donations on to the grandmas.
A day after Grandma Lee’s press conference, supporters of President Moon Jae-in and the ruling party ridiculed her and put out a conspiracy theory.
“Lee’s words at the press conference were incoherent,” a leader of a group that organized rallies in support of former Justice Minister Cho Kuk last summer said on YouTube. “I would like to say there was definitely a ‘planner.’” Cho, a close aide to Moon, resigned as justice minister amid allegations against his family.
“Grandma Lee and a certain force behind her are seeking to eliminate the Wednesday demonstrations and the council,” the leader of the pro-Cho group said. The council has held protests in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul every Wednesday since 1992.
Ruling camp supporters sneered at Grandma Lee, calling her an “indigenous Japanese invader” and saying she suffers from dementia. Earlier, the council also treated Lee as if she were a dementia patient, saying her memory was distorted.
At the press conference, however, Lee recalled her experiences in precise detail.
A pro-Moon host of a radio program said “someone seems to have provided distorted information to Lee” and that “it looks obvious that the statement she read at the press conference was not written by her directly.” On May 13, he had Yoon on his program and covered up for her.
Lee’s foster daughter refuted his claims, saying Lee had dictated the statement and confirmed its accuracy.
A former ruling party lawmaker argued that a civic group like the council is not supposed to spend donations on meals for the grandmas.
She said this in response to Lee’s revelation at the press conference that when the grandmas asked the council to buy them a meal after a fundraiser they attended, they were told there was no money.
But the money was donated to help the grandmas. Regulations aside, if a group of poor old ladies has been mobilized for a fundraiser, it is simple human decency to treat them to a warm meal.
The lawmaker also said it was hard to understand why Lee was so upset about Yoon becoming a lawmaker.
There are some dos and don’ts in this world. As teenage girls, the grandmas were forced to be sex slaves for Japanese soldiers. They have lived tragic lives.
Using them to collect donations and embezzling the money is the last thing conscientious human beings do.
It is thoughtless and shameless to spread conspiracy theories and even sneer at Grandma Lee. That is adding insult to injury.
The ruling party said it would “take a position after seeing the results of the investigation.” Its leader said, “Yoon must not succumb to suspicions raised like she was doxxed.”
The presidential office, which apologized to the grandmas over the 2015 deal that South Korea reached with Japan under the previous government, said her revelation was “not an issue we have to mention.”
Moon’s supporters were vocal in insisting that the interests of the survivors were their highest priority. They said they revered the former “comfort women” and shouted anti-Japanese slogans.
But when Grandma Lee revealed the truth, their attitude changed. They sneered at her and came up with conspiracy theories to discredit her.
For them, the grandmas were a pretext to exploit. What mattered to them was having a person like Yoon or a group like the council on their side.