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Activist for comfort women grilled over embezzlement

Rep. Yoon Mi-hyang (left) at an event on Aug. 10. Yonhap
Rep. Yoon Mi-hyang (left) at an event on Aug. 10. Yonhap

Prosecutors grilled Rep. Yoon Mi-hyang, a longtime activist for the rights of the victims of wartime sexual slavery committed by Japan, on Thursday over allegations that she embezzled donations for the women.

The interrogation went on for over 11 hours beginning at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday at the Seoul Western District Prosecutors’ Office, followed by perusing through the prosecution’s records of her statements for over three hours until she went home at around 4 a.m. on Friday.

Prosecutors questioned her mostly on allegations that she stole money donated for the “comfort women,” and received rebates when purchasing property in 2013 to use as a shelter in Anseong, Gyeonggi Province, according to news reports.

It was the first time Yoon, a ruling party lawmaker, has been summoned for questioning since prosecutors began the investigation three months ago into her alleged embezzlement.

Prosecutors are expected to decide soon whether to indict her or not.

They are also looking into Yoon’s possible theft of donations collected through her private account during her time as director of the group that advocated the rights of comfort women called the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan.

The group said it bought a two-story house and 800 square meters of land in Anseong for 750 million won in 2013, and recently sold it for 400 million won, raising suspicions that the group must have actually paid much less seven years ago when property prices were much lower than now.

The probe began as another civic group filed a complaint against Yoon with the prosecution in May, accusing her of intentionally signing a shady contract to make money as her group purchased and sold the property.

There have been many criminal cases in the past where people wrote in the ledgers of their companies or foundations that they bought or sold property at prices that are much higher or lower than market prices, and spent the difference between the actually paid price and the recorded price for their own use.

In Yoon’s case, the person who told her about the house was Rep. Lee Kyu-min of the ruling Democratic Party who was an acquaintance of Yoon’s husband. The house at the time was owned by a former colleague of Lee.

Yoon’s group had been planning to buy a site in Seoul’s Mapo-gu when it received 1 billion won in donations for a new shelter in 2012.

The sudden change of plans added to suspicions that her group may have taken “rebates” or kickbacks in the course of the property transactions.

In her press conference in late May, Yoon denied the suspicions, claiming that the homeowner at the time had put the house up for sale at 900 million won, but eventually agreed to lower the price to 750 million won after hearing about the group’s cause.

By Kim So-hyun (