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[Editorial] Opaque transactions

Cheong Wa Dae says different things to explain Kim’s wardrobe issues

Whenever new suspicions have been raised about first lady Kim Jung-sook’s outfits, Cheong Wa Dae offered an explanation, but it said different things each time.

Tak Hyun-min, protocol secretary for President Moon Jae-in, said on a radio program on Wednesday that the first lady bought clothes and accessories at her own expense for the past five years with her own credit cards. But that was not quite the case.

A master of Korea’s traditional costume hanbok and an artisan of handmade shoes who sold Kim hanbok and shoes worth millions of won told the Chosun Ilbo that they were paid only in cash for the hanbok and shoes. They said the attendants who accompanied the first lady to their shops handed over 50,000 won bills in paper envelopes.

People rarely buy expensive items in cash only. Bundles of cash are often used to hide the sources of funds or to evade tax. It is really surprising that the first lady used only cash to buy clothes and shoes.

After the news report, a Cheong Wa Dae official said that the hanbok and shoe sellers were instructed to issue tax invoices. But the hanbok master and the shoe artisan said to the effect that Kim and her assistants had not asked for receipts, so they did not issue receipts or tax invoices.

Then, Park Soo-hyun, senior presidential secretary for public communication, said that cash payment was a way of treating masters and designers with respect. This is sophistry.

Park also said that people were confused by attempts to water down the nature of the issue that the first lady has bought all of her outfits at her own expense.

But the confusion was caused by Moon, who refused to disclose the protocol costs for his wife. Early in his presidency, Moon promised to disclose information transparently. If he had kept his promise, the issue would not have arisen.

High-ranking officials disclosed changes in their personal assets on Wednesday.

Moon is said to have made 1.74 billion won ($1.42 million) in profit from the sale of his private residence in Maegok-dong in Yangsan, South Gyeongsang Province, where he had lived before he became president. He bought the property for 870 million won in 2009 and sold it 13 years later on Feb. 17 for 2.61 billion won.

It is surprising that Moon took such a large profit from the sale of his residence. He vowed to make it difficult for people to make much money from real estate. Then he sold his house at three times its initial purchase price.

Moon made a direct deal without the mediation of a real estate broker. Strangely, the home ownership transfer had not yet been registered, though about 40 days had passed since the residence was sold. Legally speaking, the residence still belonged to Moon as of Wednesday. People wonder, but Cheong Wa Dae says the transaction was normal. It refuses to disclose who bought the residence and how.

The first lady borrowed 1.1 billion won from a “disinterested individual” to fund the construction of a new residence where she and Moon will live after his presidency ends. It is uncommon to borrow such a large sum of money from an individual without offering a mortgage. Many wonder, but Cheong Wa Dae refuses to identify the lender, only saying the first couple has paid back the loan.

Media reported that a daughter of a fashion designer who made clothes for the first lady works in Cheong Wa Dae as her assistant, and Cheong Wa Dae confirmed the report. Kim is said to be an old customer of the designer. People question if it was appropriate to recruit her.

Cheong Wa Dae said that it hired the employee as a contract worker through a recommendation. It said the recruitment was normal and yet it refused to disclose details such as who had recommended the employee.

The presidential office says the first lady bought all of her clothes at her own expense. But new information that contradicts their side of the story surfaces almost daily.

Transactions and personnel affairs related to Moon and his wife are opaque and shrouded in secrecy

By Korea Herald (