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Controversy surrounding first lady and her clothes still at large

Cheong Wa Dae’s response adds fuel to calls to reveal expense reports

President Moon Jae-in (right) and first lady Kim Jung-sook (left) attend a Buddhist ceremonial event held in Jongno-gu, central Seoul, on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
President Moon Jae-in (right) and first lady Kim Jung-sook (left) attend a Buddhist ceremonial event held in Jongno-gu, central Seoul, on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
Controversy surrounding first lady Kim Jung-sook and the presidential office continues despite Cheong Wa Dae’s denial that state funds were spent on her outfits.

On Tuesday, the presidential office said that recent rumors that Kim used special activity expenses to buy costumes and accessories for herself were “groundless assertions,” saying only “personal expenses” were used for purchases. The office added Kim’s clothes sponsored for overseas visits and international events were “donated or returned.”

The issue resurfaced earlier this month as Cheong Wa Dae appealed a ruling from the Seoul Administrative Court that was in favor of demands from local civic group Korea Taxpayers’ Association to disclose information on the Moon Jae-in administration’s off-the-record expenses, including how much it spent in assisting Kim with special activity expenses.

The civic group suspected the Moon administration of abusing its spending power. It alleged Kim used her husband’s presidential authority to buy expensive clothes and accessories, some of which are thought to have been rare or specially crafted by famous designers.

While the presidential office attempted to put the issue to rest, the conservatives took issue with response from the presidential office, questioning why Cheong Wa Dae still refuses to disclose information on special activity expenses.

“Cheong Wa Dae responded that all of the clothes for Ms. Kim Jung-sook, the wife of President Moon Jae-in, were bought with personal funds, it still refuses to reveal information on how it spent the special activity expenses,” said Rep. Kang Min-kuk, a spokesperson for the People Power Party, in a statement Wednesday.

The expenses are used by the National Intelligence Service and other key government departments for intelligence purposes.

The People Power Party then asked the presidential office to reveal evidence that Kim’s clothes had been bought with private money, calling for Kim to return any that had been bought with special activity expenses.

“One thing Cheong Wa Dae should recognize is that its claim that ‘all’ of the clothes were bought with private funds will fall apart with just a single instance to the opposite,” People Power Party Chairman Lee Jun-seok said in a Facebook post Wednesday.

“The Moon Jae-in administration was sensitive to the spending of special activity expenses from the Park Geun-hye government, so I do hope no opposite instances are revealed from the office.”

In response to growing calls for investigation into the case, the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency assigned the case to the Anti-Corruption and Public Crime Investigation Division upon a complaint filed by a civic group last week. The complaint reported Kim on suspected charges of embezzlement and inflicting losses to the national treasury.

Those on the other side have also been speaking up, adding fuel to the dispute.

“From the very start of the administration, we have been on the same page in regards to problems like special activity expenses, so we have not made any private transactions like buying clothes with government funds,” said Tak Hyun-min, protocol secretary for Moon, in a radio interview Tuesday.

“There are no regulations regarding buying clothes for the first lady, so there’s no such transaction made with special activity expenses in buying clothes. Not a single penny of special activity expenses was used to buy clothes for Ms. Kim.”

The Democratic Party have accused those making the allegations as having “malicious intent” to morally damage the reputation of Moon and those around him before his term ends in May.

“President Moon recruited a secretary to exclusively manage the budget and finances, taking care of all of his living expenses with his private funds, working more than any other administrations to transparently execute the budget,” said Rep. Jo O-seop, a spokesperson for the Democratic Party, in a statement Tuesday.

“It is disheartening to see a groundless claim turning into a black propaganda.”

By Ko Jun-tae (ko.juntae@heraldcorp.com)
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