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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on June 1)

Diplomacy 07:02 June 01, 2020

Truth or dare
Lawmaker should not hide behind privileges

An activist-turned-lawmaker has failed to provide a clear explanation about allegations that she misappropriated donations for the surviving victims of Japan's wartime sexual slavery. On Friday, Yoon Mee-hyang of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea called a press conference at the National Assembly only to deny all the accusations leveled against her.

Yoon stopped short of making an apology for the simmering scandal related to her 28-year career as an activist advocating for the rights of the victims. She also turned down opposition parties and some civic groups' call for her to give up her Assembly seat which she obtained under the proportional representation system in the April 15 general election.

The scandal erupted May 7 when Lee Yong-soo, 92, a former sex slave for frontline Japanese troops before and during World War II, accused Yoon of mismanaging donated funds for the victims. Yoon had long led the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan.

The allegations against her are shocking, considering that Yoon has been recognized for organizing the weekly Wednesday rally in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul since 1992 to call for Japan's apology and compensation for the slavery victims. She has also contributed to raising awareness of Japan's wartime crimes against humanity at home and abroad.

It is regrettable that she now faces allegation after allegation, including the diversion of the council's funds to finance her daughter's study in the U.S. and buy houses for her family. She has also come under criticism for purchasing a house to build a shelter for aging slavery victims in Anseong, south of Seoul, in 2013. She and her civic group were found to have bought the house at a price much higher than its market value and sold it far below the market price. This raises suspicions that she might have embezzled the council's funds by manipulating the prices.

During the press conference, Yoon apologized for causing a controversy over her operation of the council. She admitted using her personal bank accounts to raise donations and hiring her father as a caretaker of the Anseong shelter. But her apology can only be seen as lip service because she rejected all other allegations.
The conference came after Lee held her second press conference May 25 to hold Yoon accountable for the diversion of donated funds for personal purposes. It also came a day before she officially started her career as a legislator Saturday.

Yoon and Lee are playing truth or dare. No one can figure out who is telling the truth and who is telling lies. Yet we need to listen carefully to what Lee said: Yoon and the council have done little to help the victims. We urge Yoon not to try to hide behind the privileges of a lawmaker. She must reflect on her failure to ensure keeping the moral high ground in running the advocacy group.

Now the prosecution should conduct a fair and thorough investigation into Yoon and the council to shed light on the scandal as soon as possible. She should fully cooperate with the probe. This is the least she can do so as not to disappoint the people, particularly the surviving victims, even more.
(END)

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