SEOUL – The former leader of an advocacy group for South Korean women who suffered under Japan’s military brothel system before and during World War II on Friday denied allegations of misusing funds meant for the victims but apologized for “banking errors.”
Yoon Mee-hyang is under prosecution investigation over allegations she had used government subsidies for her own benefit, not to help the so-called “comfort women” — a euphemism for women who were forced or coerced to provide sex in Japan’s wartime brothels.
She recently stepped down as longtime leader of the group, the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, better known as Jungdaehyup, to contest a national election and won a seat in parliament.
Lee Yong-soo, a prominent victim and activist, this month accused Yoon of exploiting the women to garner government funds and public donations while spending little money on them.
After weeks of silence, Yoon held a news conference and denied the accusations and calls for her resignation, saying she did not embezzle the money.
The investigation includes allegations she embezzled funds to buy apartments and support her daughter’s U.S. college education, and incurred losses by buying and selling a property meant to shelter victims.
Yoon apologized for taking donations via nine of her personal banking accounts, though none of them have been spent for personal purposes, she said.
“I used my accounts because the money was raised for special occasions, not for all victims, but it was a wrong decision,” she told the conference. “I had wired it to Jungdaehyup accounts but there were some errors. But I did not spend it personally.”
The group is also being investigated and has said it “never loosely used money” but apologized for “accounting flaws” for which it has requested an independent audit.
The feud threatens to undermine the wartime sexual servitude movement, led for decades by Yoon, Lee and Jungdaehyup, which together played a key role in effectively nullifying a controversial 2015 settlement with Japan.