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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Community gathers to take legal action against Korean American National Museum project

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Earnest discussions are in progress to sue the board of directors of the Korean American National Museum over the project that has not broken ground for more than a decade.

The board of the Korean American National Museum is currently chaired by Jaemin Chang, chairman of the Korea Times. The complaint is expected to focus on the board’s lack of transparency in operations and the use of the approximately $11 million in construction funds raised so far.

According to the Citizens’ Committee to Build the Korean American National Museum, former and current leaders of Korean American organizations, community groups, and second-generation Korean Americans are meeting to file charges against the Korean American National Museum board to California District Attorney’s Office and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Christopher Lee with the Citizens’ Committee to Build Korean American National Museum speaks at the second hearing held on June 6. [Hyoungjae Kim, The Korea Daily]

“Since the second public hearing, we’ve had several organizations contacting about joining us,” said Christopher Lee, an architect with the Citizens’ Committee. “We’re working on scheduling a meeting within the next week, and it will be to request an investigation and file complaints against the board.”

For now, the Korean American National Museum project is on the verge of being stranded.

The building’s design has been thrown back due to rising construction costs, and Shinae Yoon, who has practically been in charge of the project for the past eight years, has quit. The Korean American National Museum’s website (kanmuseum.org) has remained closed for years, and its board of directors registration is listed as “delinquent” in public records because the organization has failed to submit relevant documents.

“We just wanted to hear the progress of the project and the board’s explanation through two public hearings, but so far there has been no response. This is a very serious problem,” said Youngshin Kwon, a former board chair of the Korean National Association Memorial Foundation. “A legal complaint is inevitable. About a dozen Korean American community members are already scheduling a meeting to discuss this issue.”

If the Korean American National Museum board gets accused of formal charges, there is a possibility that a new organization could form to resuscitate the project.

“This kind of project operation would never have happened in the first place if it were a mainstream organization,” said a Korean American community official who requested anonymity, “and some organizations and community leaders in the Korean-American community are now talking about the serious need to prepare a new organization in advance for the aftermath of the legal action.”

Amidst the growing criticism, the board of the Korean American National Museum continues to remain silent and the position of secretary-general is still vacant. The Korea Daily sent an email to the board of directors asking for clarification on whether or not the board will be replaced but received no response. Eui Sung Yi, the architect of Morphosis who designed the Korean American National Museum building, also has not responded to inquiries.

The Korean American National Museum has been a long-awaited project of the Korean American community since 1991. The project was first founded by David Hyun, a senior architect, and led by Susan Ahn, the daughter of “Dosan” Ahn Chang Ho, Colonel Young Oak Kim, and Dr. Sammy Lee, an Olympic gold medalist. The organization successfully managed to obtain a long-term lease from the city of Los Angeles in 2013 for the site at almost no cost, but the project has been stalled ever since.

BY YEOL JANG, HOONSIK WOO [jang.yeol@koreadaily.com]