South Korean supporters of former ‘comfort women’ rally against the Japanese government in Seoul – Shutterstock
A second support group for South Korean women forced to work in Japanese military brothels during World War II is being investigated over claims that senior officials have embezzled millions in donations that were meant for the women.
A manager and six staff at the House of Sharing – a shelter for the dwindling number of former sex workers euphemistically known as “comfort women” – have claimed that around $5 million in donations has been siphoned off for unrelated projects and that the residents of the facility do not receive the care that they require.
The accusations come just days after the other major support organisation for former comfort women was similarly accused of embezzling donations. Those allegations have lead to demands for an official investigation into Yoon Mee-hyang, a former head of the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan.
Ms Yoon was elected as a member of the ruling Liberal Party to the South Korean parliament in last month’s elections, but opposition parties are now claiming that the organisation and Ms Yoon personally exploited surviving comfort women and embezzled donations.
Korean media have reported that Ms Yoon is suspected of pocketing donations and government subsidies and using those funds for her own purposes. One outlay that has attracted attention was the payment of more than £22,000 to a bar for an event allegedly to promote the council’s work. The operator of the bar has stated, however, that the cost of the event was only £6,440 and that it returned more than £3,500 as a donation.
South Korean elderly women who were forced to serve as sex slaves, or so called “comfort women” for Japanese troops during World War II – AFP
Further questions are being raised over a large house that was purchased in 2013 with the organisation’s funds to serve as a mountain retreat for the former comfort women.
According to the reports, the women never visited the property and the organisation paid Ms Yoon’s father nearly £50,000 over six years to live at the house as a “caretaker”.
The allegations broke when Lee Yong-soo, a 92-year-old former comfort woman, said in a recent press conference that questions should be asked about how the organisation spent the donations it received. She added that she would no longer take part in weekly protests outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul demanding compensation and an apology from Tokyo, in part because “the rallies only teach young people hatred”.
The comfort women issue has been a long-running source of friction between Seoul and Tokyo. Korean historians insist that as many as 200,000 young women from the peninsula were forcibly abducted by the Japanese military during Japan’s 35-year colonial rule and forced to work in military brothels across the empire until the end of the war in 1945.
In December 2015, the two countries signed a “final and irreversible” agreement to settle the dispute, with Japan making a formal apology and acknowledging the suffering of the women. Tokyo also paid more than £7.6 million that would be disbursed to the former comfort women through a foundation.
The new government of Moon Jae-in last year said it would no longer be bound by the agreement and liquidated the foundation.
Given the latest controversies surrounding the groups’ funds, analysts say Japan is unlikely to be willing to engage in further discussions about compensation or apologies.