Former lead activist for ‘comfort women’ charged with fraud & embezzlement in South Korea

The former leader of the South Korean advocacy group for victims of Japanese World War II sexual exploitation has been charged with fraud and embezzlement over alleged misuse of government subsidies.

Yoon Mee-hyang, former head of the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, better known as Jungdaehyup, was charged on eight counts on Monday.

The activist, who is currently an MP with South Korea’s ruling party, is accused of illegally receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in government subsidies, and spending donations meant for the surviving ‘comfort women’ on personal purchases and other expenses. Yoon denied all the charges and vowed to prove her innocence in court, apologizing for causing the controversy, the Yonhap news agency reported.

The scandal around Yoon and the advocacy group erupted this May, when a fellow activist and a ‘comfort woman’ survivor, Lee Yong-soo, accused the group’s leader of using the victims of Japanese war crimes to raise money for personal gain. Yoon firmly denied the allegations, yet apologized for any “banking errors” that might have been made under her leadership.

The Jungdaehyup group played a key role in undermining the “final and irreversible” settlement of the ‘comfort women’ issue inked by Japan and South Korea in 2015. Back then, Tokyo apologized for its WWII-era crimes, when some 200,000 Korean women and girls were forced to work in Japanese Imperial Army-run brothels. Tokyo also agreed to contribute one billion yen (some $8.3 million at the time) to establish a foundation under the aegis of the South Korean government to help a few dozen of the surviving victims.

The settlement, however, did not meet much support in the Korean society and was largely perceived as a new insult. The foundation, established with the help of Japanese funds, was ultimately disbanded in 2018. The ‘comfort women’ issue remains a contentious problem between Seoul and Tokyo, and South Korea continues to seek repentance and full financial compensation from Japan.

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