March 4, 2024

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Luxury Dior Handbag Shakes Politics in South Korea: NPR

Luxury Dior Handbag Shakes Politics in South Korea: NPR

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol sits with his wife, Kim Keun-hee, after addressing lawmakers at the Royal Gallery during a visit to the Palace of Westminster on November 21, 2023 in London, England.

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South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol sits with his wife, Kim Keun-hee, after addressing lawmakers at the Royal Gallery during a visit to the Palace of Westminster on November 21, 2023 in London, England.

WPA Pool/Getty Images

SEOUL, South Korea – Less than three months before the country's next legislative elections, what is dominating politics in South Korea is not political debates.

It is intense political infighting and personal mistakes, embodied last week in a clash between the head of the ruling conservative party and the presidential office over a scandal involving the first lady and a luxury handbag.

Growing public discontent over the recent scandal and other suspected wrongdoing linked to the first lady highlights the dilemma facing President Yoon Suk-yeol ahead of the high-stakes election.

Mishandling of the matter could cost his party a chance to regain a majority in parliament, thus weakening Yoon's grip on his party and his government's momentum for the remainder of his five-year term. Yoon is still months away from his second anniversary in office.

First Lady Kim Keun-hye was secretly photographed accepting a Christian Dior handbag worth about $2,250 from a US-based priest named Choi Jae-young in September 2022, a few months after her husband was sworn in as president.

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Choi recorded his meeting with Kim using a camera hidden in his wristwatch and was released video In late November by Voice of Seoul, a left-leaning online media outlet. Choi said the outlet provided him with the watch and bag.

The pastor and Seoul Voice defended the operation as justified, citing public interest.

Choe, who is also an activist for Korean reunification, told the newspaper that he first communicated with Kim through the messaging app to “advise” on North Korea's policies. Choi said the two are connected by their hometown and family ties.

But he said he was “appalled” by her alleged abuse of power during their first one-on-one meeting in June 2022, he said at a news conference earlier this month.

He claimed to have heard Kim interjecting the appointment of a high-ranking official in a phone call during the meeting. He also said that Kim accepted his gift of a Chanel perfume and skincare set worth a total of $1,340 that day.

The current First Lady has been the focus of previous accusations

South Korean law prohibits spouses of public employees from receiving a gift worth more than $750 on a single occasion if it is related to the officials' public service. It is not clear how the law applies to Choi's alleged gifts.

The anti-graft law also requires President Yoon to return the gift and report the truth to law enforcement or anti-corruption authorities. Choi said recently interview And neither Kim nor the presidential office has returned the portfolio since the video was revealed.

The head of Seoul Voice filed a criminal complaint against Yoon and Kim for violating the law. A major civic organization also asked a government anti-corruption agency to conduct a preliminary investigation.

The unveiling of the luxury handbag came before the legislative elections that took place last April. Although its proximity to a major election has heightened political interest in the latest revelations, First Lady Kim Kyun-hye has often posed risks to the administration.

Accusations Resume padding It appeared during Yoon's presidential race and led Kim to issue a public apology. She was also accused of academic Scientific theft. She and her mother are suspected of involvement in stock price manipulation. President recently It was overturned A bill to conduct a special investigation into this case. Last year, the main opposition Democratic Party Accused Yoon's government to reroute the planned highway for the benefit of the Kim family.

The presidential office has denied or remained silent about most of these accusations.

Criticism from within the ruling party and from the public

Amid growing public condemnation over the Dior bag scandal, some members of the ruling People Power Party have spoken out against the first lady. Kim Jeong-ryul, a member of the party's interim committee, compared her to Marie Antoinette and urged her to apologize. Han Dong-hun, former justice minister and current interim leader of the ruling party, acknowledged that the scandal could be a “cause for concern” among the public and said it should be viewed “from the public's point of view.”

Many South Koreans criticize the first lady. at recent days reconnaissance In a poll conducted by Gallup Korea and Seoul Economy Daily, 56% of participants said she should apologize for receiving the bag.

last reconnaissance Polls by Embrain Public and YTN News Channel showed that nearly 70% said the president should express his position on the issue.

But Kim herself has not been seen in public since December. Yoon's office has not yet officially commented on the case, except for anonymous officials Quoted In the local media, the pastor is criticized for “trapping” the First Lady.

Instead, after days of critical statements from within the ruling party, Yun Han's chief of staff called for him to step down as head of the Pakistan People's Party, a local television station. mentioned. While the presidential office has neither confirmed nor denied such a request, Han acknowledged it and pledged to retain his position regardless.

Yoon and Han quickly appeared to mend fences in an on-camera meeting last week and at a lunch this week. But according to party officials, the two did not discuss the issue. Amid the continuing silence, the scandal that caused the dispute remains unresolved.