Civic group keeps participants in the dark

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Civic group keeps participants in the dark

An organizer of rallies to support former Justice Minister Cho Kuk has continued fundraising activities without telling the participants that its account had lost a large sum of money in a voice phishing scam, the JoongAng Ilbo reported Thursday.

A liberal civic group, known as “Dog Fight National Movement Headquarter,” organized 15 massive street rallies last year to support Cho and denounce the prosecution’s investigation into the former justice minister and his family.

The group, founded by YouTuber Lee Jong-won, organized the rallies from Sept. 16 till Dec. 14, 2019. Lee’s YouTube channel has 380,000 subscribers.

The civic group raised funds from supporters of Cho through a personal account of its official, a 51-year-old man whose last name is Kim. Over 2 billion won ($1.66 million) of funds were wired to his account, and the civic group said it spent over 100 million won per each rally since the seventh demonstration on Sept. 28, 2019.

On Oct. 9, 2019, the group informed the Seodaemun Police Precinct of Seoul that Kim became a victim of a voice phishing scam. It said the account had 500 million won, but Kim wired 400 million won to another account after he was lied to by a scammer.

“We immediately froze the account used in the fraud, but a large amount of money he had wired to another account had already been withdrawn,” said a police official. “We investigated the case for five months, but we found no clues.”

The fraud took place shortly before Cho stepped down from the justice minister post on Oct. 14, 2019.

Supporters of the group, however, were not informed about the situation. Lee and Kim Nam-kook, a lawyer and the author of a book, “Cho Kuk White Paper,” even aired a YouTube episode together on Oct. 16 to brief the supporters about the group’s spending. At the time, Kim was in charge of the finance and accounting of the organizer.

In the show, they repeatedly stressed that they had spent the donations transparently. However, they did not tell the viewers about the voice phishing scam.

On Oct. 29, Lee also posted a notice on the Internet site of the group that an accounting audit report will be made public after their 12th rally. No such report was released as of Thursday.

“I sent my monthly contribution because I believed that they were spending the money transparently based on the [YouTube] episode,” said a member of the group. “I feel cheated because they hid the facts about the scam.

“I contributed money to support Cho and the reform of the prosecution,” he said. “The group must lay bare their detailed spending now.”

According to the Act on Collection and Use of Donations, one must register in advance with a local government or the Ministry of Interior and Safety to collect donations over 10 million won from the general public. Failure to do so is punishable by up to three years in prison or a fine of up to 30 million won.

Spending the donations for a purpose other than the promised cause is also punishable as fraud.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government and the ministry confirmed to the JoongAng Ilbo that the Dog Fight National Movement Headquarter never registered their fundraising activity in advance.

It registered its corporation in a different name with the Seoul Metropolitan Government on Jan. 3, 2020. Since Feb. 5, it has been receiving donations to the group’s account.

“I wanted to inform the supporters about the scam after the police investigation ended,” Lee said. “I didn’t intentionally hide it.”

Kim Nam-kook, nominated as the ruling Democratic Party’s candidate for the Danwon B District of Ansan, Gyeonggi, for the April general elections, told the JoongAng Ilbo on Thursday that he was aware of the scam when he was broadcasting the show with Lee, but insisted that he should not be held accountable.

“It used just one bank account for deposits and spending,” he said. “Every day, hundreds of thousands of people sent donations, and I could not check every single one of them. That was why I suggested that an accounting firm must conduct an audit.”

BY KIM KI-HWAN, KIM HYO-SEONG [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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