Yoon Mi-hyang, a lawmaker of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, denied any suspicions amplified after former comfort woman Lee Yong-soo’s revelation.
Yoon said she had no intention to resign as a lawmaker.
She headed a civic group for those women forced by Japan to serve its soldiers as their “comfort women” -- actually sex slaves -- during its colonial rule of Korea (1910-1945). They are simply called grandmas.
Earlier, Grandma Lee revealed that the group under Yoon used grandmas to raise donations but that it has rarely spent the money on them.
Triggered by the revelation, news media raised an array of suspicions surrounding Yoon’s possible embezzlement of donations given to the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan.
In a press conference last week, she apologized for worrying the people. Specifically, she apologized for only two issues -- raising donations through her personal accounts and the council employing his father as a keeper of a hostel for grandmas.
She refuted all of the suspicions, saying consistently, “That’s not true,” or “I did nothing wrong.”
But she presented no corroborating materials, citing that she faces a prosecutors’ investigation.
Yoon confessed to raising 280 million won ($226,000) in donations through her four personal bank accounts on nine occasions while working for the council. She apologized, saying “Now I see the move was ill-judged.”
Now that she confessed, allegations of her possible embezzlement via her personal accounts must be scrutinized though she denies misusing donations.
She also denied suspicions she may have used donated money to purchase five houses in her and her relatives’ names. Her denial must be verified in light of objective data she did not present.
The council received about 1.3 billion won in state subsidy from 2016 to 2019 and reported only 530 million won of the subsidy to the tax authorities. There was no mention at all of this issue.
The council bought a house for grandmas to use as their resting place. It purchased the house with 750 million won out of 1 billion won donated by a company. Nearly seven years later, it sold the house for 420 million won. The council is suspected of embezzling the donation through the loss-incurring transaction.
Yoon argued that the council bought the house cheaply rather than expensively and that the house was sold at market price.
Few grandmas used the house. Instead civic groups related to the council held their own training sessions or had barbecue parties there.
The council hired Yoon’s father as caretaker of the house and paid him a salary. This deepens suspicions that she may have run the council privately.
She would be mistaken if she believes that the press conference cleared her of suspicions and that public interest will fade over time.
Now the ball is in the prosecution’s court. It must get to the bottom of the suspicions, leaving no speck of doubt.
She vowed not to cling to her status as lawmaker in connection with the investigation, but she did not express her intention to resign.
Yoon’s status changed from a lawmaker-elect to a lawmaker on May 30. She held the press conference just a day before starting her term as a lawmaker.
As a lawmaker, Yoon has the privilege of exemption from arrest when the National Assembly is in session. The assembly is expected to open a session around June 5. It will not be easy to summon her during a parliamentary session.
If she wants to prove her assertions quickly, she must not hide behind the privilege.
In the press conference, she consistently tried to justify herself.
Many view her as unqualified to be a moral and trustworthy lawmaker. A recent poll showed about 70 percent of respondents want her to step down.
Yoon said she will cooperate with the investigation sincerely. What she has to do is to abandon the privilege and undergo investigation as an ordinary citizen.
The ruling party, which said Yoon must not succumb to suspicions, must stop covering up for her and let the prosecution investigate impartially without any external influence.