Yoon takes seat, claims she is innocent of all allegations

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Yoon takes seat, claims she is innocent of all allegations

Yoon Mee-hyang, a lawmaker of the ruling Democratic Party who until recently headed an advocacy group for victims of Japan’s wartime sexual slavery, holds a press conference at the National Assembly in Yeouido, western Seoul, on Friday. [YONHAP]

Yoon Mee-hyang, a lawmaker of the ruling Democratic Party who until recently headed an advocacy group for victims of Japan’s wartime sexual slavery, holds a press conference at the National Assembly in Yeouido, western Seoul, on Friday. [YONHAP]

Yoon Mee-hyang, the former head of a civic group supporting Japanese wartime sexual slavery victims, kicked off her term as a new lawmaker Saturday, after denying allegations that she had misappropriated donations intended to help "comfort women" survivors in a press conference the previous day.  
 
The ruling and opposition parties continue to have conflicting views over whether Yoon's explanations were sufficient as the 21st National Assembly opened its session Saturday and 300 lawmakers started their four-year terms.  
 
Yoon, the former head of the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery, broke her 11-day media silence and held a 40-minute press conference at the National Assembly on Friday to address point by point allegations raised against her and pushed back against accusations that the group had exploited the so-called comfort women victims for 30 years and misappropriated funds intended to help them.
 
The controversy over Yoon and the civic group's financial transparency began May 6 when Lee Yong-soo, a comfort woman survivor and long-time activist for the cause of the victims of the Japanese military’s sexual slavery during World War II, made the allegations during a press conference. Lee held a second press conference on May 25 restating her position that she had been used by the Korean Council for three decades.  
 
Prosecutors are investigating allegations that Yoon and the group misappropriated money, including government funding. Incumbent lawmakers have immunity from arrest without the consent of the National Assembly.  
 
Kim Tae-nyeon, the DP floor leader, said in a press briefing at the National Assembly on Yoon, “Rep. Yoon herself did the best she could to explain herself.”  
 
He added that as the prosecution is probing the situation, “the investigation will take place at an early date.” But he said this was not a situation for a “state probe,” addressing the main opposition party’s request for one.
 
Joo Ho-young, floor leader of the main opposition United Future Party (UFP), however on Saturday told reporters he is “not sure why the DP leadership is so protective of Yoon.”  
 
He added, “If the prosecution investigation is insufficient, along with a state probe, the people need to step forward to remove her from the National Assembly.”  
 
During the Friday press conference, Yoon read from a prepared statement before taking questions from the press, and rejected almost all accusations leveled against her. She also made it clear that she has no intention of giving up her seat. Yoon said she could not discuss all the “small details” because “a questioning by the prosecution is imminent,” referring to an ongoing criminal probe into the Korean Council.  
 
But while denying any misappropriation of funds, Yoon apologized for using her personal bank account to collect public donations, saying she had been “naïve to think it is okay as long as there was no problem about financial [transparency].” 
 
She said that after utilizing the donations, she transferred leftover funds to the Korean Council account, and added, “I have never used donations collected in my account for personal use.”
 
Yoon said she has raised a total of 280 million won ($227,000) that was deposited into her personal bank account. She said she spent 230 million won of the total on projects related to comfort women victims that were outside the purview of the Korean Council, with the remainder used by the Korean Council. She added that she plans to disclose all of the details to the prosecution.
 
Yoon rejected claims that Korean Council funds were used for her family’s purchase of five apartments and said the family was able to buy the properties with loans from relatives and personal savings.  
 
The lawmaker-elect also addressed the Korean Council’s substantial loss in the purchase and sale of a house in Anseong, Gyeonggi, and said that while the loss of public donations was “regretful,” she “never profited from the deal.”  
 
Lee Yong-soo told reporters at a teahouse in Daegu on Friday on Yoon’s press conference, “What’s the point of reading out a long written response? She should do it properly.”  
 
She added, “I don’t even want to mention Yoon’s name.”  
 
Lee watched Yoon’s press conference live that day from the teahouse. There was little direct mention of Lee in Yoon’s prepared response that day.  
 
Yoon on Saturday further denied reports that her daughter had been a recipient of a scholarship in the name of Kim Bok-dong, late comfort women victim.
 
BY SER MYO-JA, SARAH KIM   [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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