Lee Yong-soo, who was forced to serve as a sex slave for Japanese soldiers during World War II, on Tuesday called on prosecutors to investigate the head of a charity that has been looking after her. The 92-year-old woman sobbed as she made her accusations. Lee came to prominence when she testified before American lawmakers about the brutal treatment she endured and played a pivotal role in getting the U.S. Congress to adopt a resolution seeking an apology from Japan. She is virtually the symbol of efforts over the past three decades to get the Japanese government to take full responsibility for forcing women into sexual slavery. But on Tuesday she told reporters, “I did somersaults while they took the money.” Lee added that the head of the charity that supported her, called the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, “shed crocodile tears” at the grave of another former sex slave who died in 2019. Lee gave other accounts of former sex slaves being used by the charity for financial gain.
The activist group is facing snowballing allegations of embezzling donations. Up to W3.7 billion in donations and state grants remains unaccounted for (US$1=W1,233). Yoon Mee-hyang, the head of the charity, took donations on 11 different occasions when a former sex slave died or traveled overseas. They were transferred directly into Yoon’s personal bank account and is now thought to amount to tens of millions of dollars. There are other accounts that the charity spent far less money than it received, collected donations without specifying a clear purpose for their use, and in some years gave not a single penny to the victims.
After Lee made her revelations, the charity predictably accused her of being senile. Yoon said Lee told her during their first phone call 30 years ago that her friend had been a former sex slave. But Lee said she was then simply too ashamed to say she was talking about herself. Throughout the news conference, Lee said, “This is not easy because of my old age,” but she managed to accurately recall the names of people she met decades ago.
Lee said that the movement to seek compensation for former sex slaves “must not be reliant on a small handful of people or outside help. I was too embarrassed that I had been used until the end.” But now she could no longer sit back and watch other victims being used to raise money and stressed that the victims themselves rather than activists acting on their behalf should be at the center of the movement.
The world is filled with hustlers and conmen, but using victims of an atrocity to enrich oneself is beyond the pale and a crime so despicable that it should bring everyone out on the barricades. And yet the head of the ruling party has said the scandal is “not serious,” while Cheong Wa Dae has refused to comment on the issue. It seems Yoon has friends in very high places.
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