TOKYO — Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said Tuesday the detention by prosecutors of South Korea’s main architect of the “comfort women” deal with Japan, over allegations of illegal payments, would not affect bilateral ties.
Lee Byung Kee is believed to have played a key role in completing the 2015 agreement on the women who were forced to work in Japan’s wartime military brothels, when he served as chief of staff to former President Park Geun Hye.
Concerns are growing that the detention of Lee, also a former ambassador to Japan under the Park government, may further reduce the possibility of the deal — in which Tokyo and Seoul agreed the comfort women issue was “resolved finally and irreversibly,” — being implemented.
Brushing aside such fears, Kono said at a press conference, “This is a domestic issue in South Korea. I don’t think this will have an influence on Japan-South Korea relations.”
While Tokyo has repeatedly called on Seoul to steadily implement the agreement signed in December 2015, the incumbent administration of South Korean President Moon Jae In has shown eagerness to renegotiate it.
Under the accord Japan paid 1 billion yen ($8.8 million) last year to a South Korean fund to provide support to the women and their families, while South Korea promised it “will strive to solve,” in consultation with civil society organizations, Japan’s objections to a “comfort women” statue in front of its embassy in Seoul.
According to Yonhap News Agency, Lee, a former chief of the National Intelligence Service, was detained by investigative authorities in Seoul on suspicion that his agency illegally paid 4 billion won ($3.57 million) to aides of then President Park during his term.
Park, who was South Korea’s first female leader, was imprisoned in March after being thrown out of office over a corruption and abuse-of-power scandal.