Questions about the civic groupSuspicions over the Korean Council for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan continue after a survivor on May 7 exposed potential corruption involving the civic group in Korea. Despite as many as 14 documents the Korean Council has presented to explain her allegations over the last ten days, nothing has been cleared up. In the beginning, the civic group raised issues related to the “blurry memories” of Lee Yong-soo, a 91-year-old former “comfort woman” and whistleblower, and then attacked her for criticizing the group for “her own financial needs.” Finally, the group has denounced the conservative media for “adhering to pro-Japanese perspectives.”
Given the doubts raised so far, the civic group has lost moral justification for its raison d’être. Since the prosecution has kicked off investigations of its corruption, including misuse of donations and accounting fraud, it must get to the bottom of all allegations.
What is most suspicious is the group’s purchase in 2013 of a house in Anseong, Gyeonggi, allegedly to be used by survivors. It bought the house at 750 million won ($608,000), but similar sized houses were trading at 200 million won at the time. The broker involved in the purchase was a former president of a local newspaper in the city and lawmaker-elect of a satellite party of the ruling Democratic Party in the April 15 parliamentary elections. Many suspicions arose over the civic group’s purchase of the house at a price much higher than others.
That’s not all. Circumstantial evidence suggests the civic group used the house mostly as a sort of villa, not for the victims. Yoon Mee-hyang, the former head of the civic group and also a lawmaker-elect in the latest election, apologized for her father having received over 750 million won while working as superintendent of the house.
The civic group also collected public donations partly through Yoon’s personal bank account. The public is deeply embarrassed to see her acts as a civic leader. The ruling party and its allies must stop embracing her based on ideological affiliation.
Such suspicions were first raised by Shim Mi-ja, another former sex slave, who passed away in 2004 after a stroke. At the time, she issued a statement demanding the civic group shut down for its betrayal. She lambasted the group for “fattening its belly by exploiting former comfort women.”
There must be reasons for the victims’ criticisms against the civic group given their repeated accusations against it. The government must get a sincere apology from Japan to correct its historical distortions. But at the same time, it must clear all suspicions involving the civic group.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 18, page 30