South Korea’s first lady, Kim Kong Hee, is at the center of a scandal that could easily form the basis of a spy movie. The wife of the President of the Republic accepted a Dior bag as a gift. Now she faces the threat of corruption charges, with politicians insisting the couple must apologize for the incident. writes The Guardian. And all this is on the eve of the parliamentary elections, which will take place on April 10. RBC Life looked into how this story threatens the head of the country and his family, and what the American pastor and North Korea have to do with it.
The man then stopped by the office of Covana Contents, an event planning firm in Seoul owned by the first lady. That’s how he met Kim Kong Hee and gave her a package with a Dior bag. The video does not show the South Korean president’s wife accepting the gift, but she told Jae, “Never buy something as expensive as this.”
After the video appeared on the Internet, the presidential administration confirmedthat the wife of the head of state received the bag as a gift. However, they added that the item is “used and stored as government property.” Under South Korea’s anti-corruption law, government officials and their spouses are prohibited from receiving gifts worth more than 1 million Korean won ($750) or a total of 3 million won ($2,245) during a fiscal year.
Who is Pastor Choi Jae-young?
Choi Jae-young is a Korean-American pastor. He visited North Korea several times to hold services in several state churches in Pyongyang, The Guardian notes. He is a supporter of cooperation with North Korea. Choi Jae assertsthat he came from the same city as the president’s wife and knew her father.
He explained what prompted the pastor to stage such a provocation at a press conference held in the building of the National Assembly of the Republic. According to him, it all started in 2022. He then sought a meeting with the first lady because of concerns about her husband’s hard-line policies toward North Korea.
During this meeting, the pastor claims, he heard Kim Kong Hee talking on the phone, touching on sensitive government issues. Alarmed by the nature of that conversation, he decided to secretly record their next meeting using a spy camera hidden in his wristwatch. The religious leader insists that Kim Kon Hee regularly abused her power and “privatized and monopolized all systems in the presidential administration.”
To criticism that he used a spy camera, Choi Jae responded, “Otherwise, how would we know what was really going on in the presidential office.”
Why did you remember now?
The scandal is being talked about with renewed vigor ahead of the parliamentary elections to be held in South Korea on April 10. Members of the ruling Power of the People party are divided over whether the president’s wife should issue a public apology over the matter to win back voter support.
Prosecutor’s office ordered an inspection in the case of a possible corruption component in the bag case. The civic group then filed a complaint with the country’s Commission on Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights, asking for an investigation into possible wrongdoing by the first lady.
People Power Party member Kim Kyung-yul compared first lady with Marie Antoinette. The 18th-century Queen of France was beheaded by guillotine. While there were food shortages in Paris, Marie Antoinette was wasteful. She is credited with saying “Let them eat cake!” in response to the remark that people don’t even have bread. Kim Kyung Yul later apologized for his comments.
Now the country’s president, writes Time, is “at odds with members of his own party” over how to respond to the scandalous video. In the run-up to the elections, internal strife could play into the hands of rivals, the Democratic Party, which competes with the People Power Party.
Conservative supporters of the South Korean president called the video a political provocation ahead of the upcoming elections. In the administration of the head of state insistthat there is no need to apologize about the incident: “The gifts received by the President and his wife belong to the state and are the property of the state.”
Kommersant.Ru, 02/08/2024, “They go to elections in South Korea with a Dior bag”: South Korean President Yoon Seok-yeol has finally decided to explain to the public about the scandal, which has noticeably hit the ratings of the politician himself and his “Power of the People” party. According to the president, releasing a video into the public space in which the first lady accepts an expensive handbag from Dior as a gift is a “political maneuver.” And this seems to be true: a recording made by a hidden camera back in 2022 appeared shortly before the April parliamentary elections. […]
“The video comes as the general election approaches, a year after the incident occurred, so we can view it as a political maneuver,” the head of state explained in an interview with broadcaster KBS aired this Wednesday. At the same time, he tried to justify his wife’s action by saying that the pastor was a friend of Ms. Kim’s late father and, “given the situation,” it was difficult for her to “calmly reject” his gift, even if her action was “regrettable.”
However, the president’s explanations are unlikely to quell public discontent. Firstly, because they were very late. Back in mid-January, according to a number of surveys, almost 70% of respondents believed that Yoon Seok Yeol should have commented on the scandal with his wife long ago. But he remained silent even after the said Voice of Seoul channel sued Ms. Kim for violating the anti-corruption law. […] Meanwhile, while Yoon Seok Yeol remained silent about the scandal, his ratings declined. A Gallup Korea poll released last Friday showed the president’s support dropped to 29%, the lowest in nine months. — Insert K.ru
The reputation of the first lady of South Korea was previously shaken by several other stories. In 2022, during her husband’s election campaign, the rival Democratic Party statedthat Kim Kong Hee falsified her resume.
Before her marriage, in 2008, she received a doctorate in design. However, shortly after her husband’s victory in the presidential election, South Korea’s Kookmin University in Seoul audited the first lady’s doctoral dissertation following allegations of plagiarism. Commission I came to conclusionthat her study and the other two papers “are neither plagiarism nor improper research that seriously deviates from the range generally accepted in academic disciplines.”
In March 2022 The Korea Herald wrote:, that the first lady received illegal profits during the “fraud with shares of Deutsch Motors” (BMW dealer in South Korea). In January 2024, South Korean President Yoon Seok-yeol vetoed on a bill that would allow the Korean National Assembly to investigate the first lady’s alleged involvement in stock market manipulation.
What is the penalty for abuse of power?
The penalties for abuse of power in South Korea are severe. For example, in 2018, the ex-president of South Korea Park Geun-hye sent to prison for 24 years. She became the first woman to serve as president of the republic and the first head of state to be removed as a result of impeachment. She was also fined 18 billion won (about $17.5 million at the then exchange rate) for disclosing state secrets, extortion, abuse of power and accepting bribes.
According to investigators, a close friend of Park Geun-hye, taking advantage of her friendship with the president, extorted money from large corporations, including Samsung and Lotte.
In December 2021, a woman pardoned. The ex-president was included in the relevant list for health reasons: over the course of a year, the prisoner was hospitalized three times with shoulder and lower back pain, and she also underwent surgery.