January 24, 2024
SEOUL – When a YouTube video of South Korea’s first lady receiving a Dior handbag went viral last year, no one expected it to snowball into a major political hurdle for the ruling party.
In the weeks before April’s general election, the footage has become a wedge that is straining relationships among People Power Party lawmakers, as well as a piece of political ammunition for the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea.
Opposition lawmakers have been raising their suspicions that first lady Kim Keon Hee violated anti-graft legislation that forbids public officials and their spouses from receiving gifts valued at more than 50,000 won ($37).
The footage, which was edited and uploaded by liberal news outlet Voice of Seoul on Nov. 27, first shows a Korean-American pastor named Choi Jae-young visiting a Christian Dior store to purchase the handbag in question. Then the camera zooms in on the purchased bag’s invoice, showing that it’s valued at 3 million won.
Kim is featured in the 86-minute video for less than a minute, as the rest of the video is filled with commentaries and discussions among panels. Wearing a casual T-shirt, she asks Choi, who visited her at the headquarters of her company Covana Contents located in southern Seoul, “Why do you keep bringing me these things?”
The box of the Dior handbag is shown perched up on the coffee table between Kim and Choi next to glasses filled with water, but the video does not show Kim accepting the gift. It was revealed that Kim had accepted the gift through a statement released by the presidential office and ruling party which said the bag was “being managed and stored as a property of the government.”
The footage was filmed with a spy cam in September last year, Choi admitted through a press conference held at the National Assembly on Monday. Choi said he was able to meet Kim because he shared an acquaintance with her father.
Choi claimed that he decided to film the video to expose how Kim was abusing her power as the first lady.
“It all started from witnessing Kim naming a ranking official at the Financial Services Commission, first-hand, (so casually in a private setting),” Choi said.
He claimed that Kim was abusing the “blind spots made in the absence of the first lady’s office, senior secretary for civil affairs and the independent inspector general.” She has “privatized and monopolized all systems in the presidential office,” he added.
On criticisms that he used a spy cam in the process, Choi responded, “how else would we know what’s actually happening” in the presidential office.
The controversy surrounding the luxury bag footage has become a political “hot potato” ahead of the upcoming election.
Ruling party lawmakers have been divided over whether Kim should make a public apology over the matter to win back voters’ support. People Power Party Rep. Kim Kyung-yul had even compared Kim to Marie Antoinette, the infamous last queen of France in the 18th century before the French Revolution, in a YouTube interview last week. He later apologized for his comments.
Meanwhile, People Power Party Chair Han Dong-hoon on Monday confirmed he had rejected the presidential office’s request that he step down from his current leadership position. The request from the presidential office came as Han adopted a flexible stance towards the Dior bag issue, saying the luxury bag controversy “could be a matter of public concern,” when speaking to reporters at a party policy event last week. He added that the presidential office could have better handled the issue, but said the whole situation was “a planned setup using a spy cam.”