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Whistleblower NGO donors want refunds

June 11,2019
More than 400 people who donated to a whistleblower NGO started by Yun Geo, an actress who was a key witness in the controversial death of actress Jang Ja-yeon, sued Yun for fraud Monday, demanding their money back.

“The sponsors are requesting their money back and also compensation for damages inflicted to them both financially and mentally,” said Choi Na-ri, a lawyer from the firm Law & Us, at a press conference at the Seoul Central District Court in southern Seoul on Monday. “They said they decided to donate to Yun’s cause because they believed her words to be true. But now they feel their good intentions were abused by Yun.”

Some 439 sponsors of Yun are plaintiffs in the suit, demanding the refunding of around 10 million won ($8,427) in donations. They are also demanding 20 million won for mental and financial damages.

Jang committed suicide on March 7, 2009, after leaving a letter in which she claimed to have been forced by her former manager to have sex with influential figures in the entertainment industry to land television roles. Police investigated but made a single arrest in the case of Kim Jong-seung, who was the CEO of Jang’s talent agency and was convicted of physically abusing the actress, receiving a suspended sentence. At the time, Yun told police what she knew of Jang’s life although she did not publicize the fact at the time.

Jang’s case was reopened by prosecutors in April 2018 when a fact-finding team from the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office looked into 15 suspected cases of prosecutorial misconduct during the administrations of the past two presidents.

During the second probe, Yun went public about her involvement in the case. She published the book “The 13th Testimony” on March 5, 2019, in which she told her experiences testifying about the case since 2009.

In the same month, Yun complained of what she called lax protection of witnesses in Korea. She made a public appeal to the Blue House about how the police failed to respond to her own calls for protection.

The head of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency apologized and offered daily 24-hour witness protection.

As the probe was ongoing, Yun told the press about the existence of a list of names of influential figures in the entertainment and political circles that Jang was forced to entertain. She said she told the prosecution about one lawmaker and three media executives on the list, including a person at the Chosun Ilbo.

In April 2019, Yun created an NGO that she said would be dedicated to establishing a better system for witness protection in Korea. In an interview with JTBC, Yun said she would be grateful for any donations.

Around two weeks later, a writer named Kim Su-min, who worked with Yun on her book, sued Yun for fraud and accused her of abusing her witness status to solicit donations. Kim added that Yun published her book without the consent of the relatives of Jang.

Yun reportedly intends to sue Kim for defamation. Yun left for Canada on April 24, where she has residence status.

“I never asked for the money and I never threatened anyone for donations,” reads a posting by Yun on her Instagram account on Saturday. “It was the people who asked me to open up a banking account to receive donations, not myself.”

The second probe into Jang closed in May without any indictments for lack of evidence. It found no evidence on the alleged list of names described by Yun.

“Some people who sponsored Yun did so by reducing their expenses for daily needs like baby formula,” Choi said. “Some of them are disappointed at how Yun has been responding to the accusations.”

Yun was recently involved in another controversy when one of her drawings depicting the face of a tiger, which was to be exhibited at the PLAS 2019 Contemporary Art Show in Coex, southern Seoul, from coming Wednesday to Sunday was accused of being a copy.

The artist was accused of plagiarizing a photo of a face of a tiger on a sketchbook product sold in Canada.

Yun pulled her art from the exhibition.

BY PARK SA-RA, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]