The Korea Herald


Probe of first lady on Dior bag allegations set to begin

Top prosecutor vows ‘speedy’ investigation into Kim Keon Hee’s luxury Dior bag allegations

By Jung Min-kyung

Published : May 7, 2024 - 18:18

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First lady Kim Keon Hee is seen after landing at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport as she accompanies President Yoon Suk Yeol on a state visit to the Netherlands, Dec. 11, 2023. (Yonhap) First lady Kim Keon Hee is seen after landing at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport as she accompanies President Yoon Suk Yeol on a state visit to the Netherlands, Dec. 11, 2023. (Yonhap)

A high-profile probe zeroing in on first lady Kim Keon Hee is set to begin as the top prosecutor pledged Tuesday to carry out a "speedy and strict" investigation into accusations that she illegally received a luxury Christian Dior bag as a gift from a Korean American pastor in 2022.

“The prosecution plans to conduct a speedy and strict investigation (into the allegations against the first lady) based solely on existing evidence and legal principles,” Prosecutor General Lee One-seok told reporters as he entered the Supreme Prosecutors' Office in southern Seoul in the morning.

Lee’s pledge comes less than a week after he reportedly ordered the launch of a special task force dedicated to an in-depth investigation of the anti-graft violation allegations against the first lady.

It also comes as the main opposition party's growing calls to revive and pass a special bill mandating an investigation into multiple allegations against the first lady, following a landslide victory in the April 10 parliamentary elections, in which the Democratic Party of Korea and satellite Democratic United party secured a majority of 171 of the total 300 seats in the National Assembly.

In March, the Democratic Party drafted and railroaded an updated version of a special investigation bill into the first lady, which looks into the anti-graft allegations on top of the accusations that Kim was involved in a stock manipulation scandal of Deutsch Motors, a local BMW car dealer here, some decade ago. The previous version of the bill, which only mandated a probe into the stock manipulation allegations, was vetoed by President Yoon Suk Yeol in January.

Democratic Party Rep. Park Chan-dae, the main opposition’s new floor leader, revealed plans Sunday to resubmit eight bills vetoed by Yoon in the incoming parliament, including the investigation bill against the first lady.

On the other side of the political sphere, Kim Min-jeon, a scholar-turned-politician who was recently elected a ruling party lawmaker in the April 10 parliamentary elections called for a more comprehensive probe not only involving the current first lady, but similar allegations against Kim Jung-sook, wife of the former President Moon Jae-in, and incumbent main opposition leader Lee Jae-myung’s wife Kim Hye-kyung.

“What I want to demand President Yoon and the ruling party leadership is to accept the request for probe on the 3 million won ($2,210) luxury handbag, but at the same time, demand (to the opposition) to carry out similar investigations on (allegations that Kim Hye-kyung misused taxpayers’ money) and suspicions that Kim Jung-sook purchased her clothes and accessories (also with taxpayers’ money),” she said in a Facebook post uploaded Tuesday.

In November last year, local media outlet and YouTube channel Voice of Seoul, uploaded a video filmed through spy cam showing Kim receiving a Christian Dior handbag worth 3 million won ($2,210) from a Korean American pastor named Choi Jae-young. The video was shot in September 2022, but was uploaded some year later, the channel claimed.

The outlet's head has since filed a complaint against President Yoon and the first lady on suspicions of violating the country’s bribery and anti-graft regulations, which forbid public officials and their spouses from receiving gifts valued at more than 1 million won at a time or a total of 3 million won in a single year from the same person.

The presidential office has defended the first lady by calling the video a trap set up by a “pro-North Korean” pastor, while some ruling party People Power Party lawmakers stressed that Kim has not used the bag once after storing it in the presidential repository.

On the possibility of the first lady being convicted for violating the anti-graft law, a legal expert, who requested anonymity, said it is highly unlikely at the moment.

“The main focus of the anti-graft law here is whether the public official violated the rules, though it does include their spouses as subjects,” the expert said.

“The main agenda of the investigation would be to prove how much Yoon knew about the first lady’s acceptance of the luxury bag and what he could have possibly gained from it,” he added.

Kim has been absent from the public eye since mid-December, when she was last seen upon her return from the Netherlands alongside Yoon. Though there were reported sightings of her casting a ballot for the latest parliamentary elections, the presidential office has remained silent about her whereabouts. South Korea's first lady has been out of the public eye for five months.

Meanwhile, Yoon on Tuesday named a former prosecutor as the new senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, a position he scrapped two years ago to curb accusations that it meddles in probes by the prosecution and the police.

On suspicions that the position was revived to alleviate the risks tied to the accusations against the first lady, Yoon said while introducing his new aide for civil affairs that the role was designed to “serve the people.” He added that any “personal legal risks” associated with him should be something “that he should resolve himself” and not through the revived position.