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Published On: Fri, Jun 26th, 2020

South Korean Government Official Embroiled In Fraud Case Against Comfort Women Group

As South Korea experiences a new wave of the COVID-19 virus, the country is faced with a crisis of a different kind. Owing to the public announcement of former comfort woman Lee Yong-soo, the government is now embroiled in a fraud case. In early May, Lee Yong-soo, the face of the campaign for justice and recompense for South Korean comfort women who suffered during World War II, held a press conference where she dropped a couple of shockers.

Lee Yong-soo is a member of the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance, an organization formed to take up the cause of comfort women – to raise awareness and funds, as well as ensure the welfare of the surviving comfort women. Since 1990, the Council has been active on both national and international levels and is particularly known for its weekly rallies in which the 92-year-old was a regular participant.

In her press conference, however, Lee Yong-soo surprised everyone by stating that she was no longer going to take part in the weekly rallies. She brought up an observation that, instead of promoting peace and reconciliation, the rallies are only promoting animosity, especially among the youth from both countries.

Lee Yong-soo said, “Students spend their own precious money and time to attend these rallies, but the rallies only teach hatred and suffering. Korean and Japanese youths with historically accurate education must befriend each other and communicate with each other to solve problems.”

To further complicate matters for the South Korean government, Lee Yong-soo claimed that the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance was mismanaging funds and not carrying out its mission as it was supposed to. The former comfort woman stated that, while the Council was supposed to take care of comfort women, it didn’t really disburse funds to the intended beneficiaries. More so, the Council allegedly went beyond its mandate by including other forced laborers during World War II in its activities. While it may be a noble gesture, it is not part of the reason the Council was formed. Thus, the benefits and attention which the comfort women were supposed to receive have been divided thus far.

Lee Yong-soo also stated that the former head of the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance, Yoon Mee-hyang, had been misappropriating funds that the organization raised from donations. She cited instances wherein Yoon Mee-hyang used Council funds to acquire personal property as well as to pay for the education of her daughter in the United States. These donations came from both private entities and the South Korean government, in the form of subsidies.

With Yoon Mee-hyang recently elected to a government seat under the party of President Moon Jae-in, the alleged fraud reels in the government into the tangle.

The Prosecutor General’s office, headed by Yoon Seok-youl, was pressured to immediately call for an investigation into the matter – the day after Lee Yong-soo’s public announcement. The agency has not released a statement, but the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance says that they have not misappropriated any funds although they admitted to possible accounting errors –  omissions in filing donations.

The Democratic Party’s spokesman, Kang Hoon-sik, stated that the party would be waiting for the official results but to date, no findings has been released regarding the Prosecutor General’s investigations. He further said that “revealing the truth is the priority” and that “as a lawmaker and politician, she has to state her position on the issues raised by [Lee] and explain things that have to be explained.” Yet no concrete pressure has been applied.

Politicians from the opposing party and the public have been calling for the resignation of Yoon Mee-hyang from office but, after being silent for a time, the government official simply dismissed the allegations, going as far as to say that the former comfort woman is lying or is too old to remember the truth. A survey found that 7 out of 10 South Koreans believe that Yoon Mee-hyang should resign from the Korean National Assembly. 

Families of the former comfort women are also speaking out amidst the furor Lee Yong-soo’s statements have caused. Gil Won-ok’s (a former comfort woman) son, Hwang Sun-hee, has stated that the families are banding together to create their own committee to help the victims. He points a finger at Yoon Mee-hyang and the Council, saying that they took advantage of the former comfort women instead of truly helping them.

In spite of this issue being under the spotlight, it remains to be seen exactly how the government will handle the situation. 

Author: Nayab Sh

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