February 9, 2024
SEOUL – President Yoon Suk Yeol faced a firestorm of criticism from the main opposition and several minor parties on Thursday, a day after he opened up about the luxury bag scandal involving the first lady.
The parties either demanded a solid apology from Yoon on behalf of his wife or brushed off his explanation as insincere.
In a special New Year’s interview with KBS aired late Wednesday, Yoon called the anti-graft violation accusations made against first lady Kim Keon Hee a “political maneuver,” citing the timeline of the scandal.
Korean-American pastor Choi Jae-young said he secretly filmed Kim receiving the Christian Dior bag worth 3 million won ($2,260) with a spy cam in September 2022, but the video was released via the YouTube channel of left-leaning news outlet Voice of Seoul in November last year.
“The (Voice of Seoul) made the video known to the public at a time when the general election is drawing near, a year after the issue happened, so we can see this as a political maneuver,” Yoon said, pointing to the upcoming election scheduled for April 10.
Yoon did not publicly apologize for the scandal, while admitting that his wife’s action seen in the hidden camera was “regrettable.” Yoon said that, “moving forward, the line should be drawn clearly in order to prevent such incidents from happening again.”
The main opposition Democratic Party of Korea denounced Yoon’s explanation of the scandal through a written briefing released via Rep. Kwon Chil-seung, its senior spokesperson.
“We cannot suppress our frustration over the president’s arrogant refusal to respond to the people’s demand for a public apology and thorough investigation over (the scandal),” Kwon said.
“(His explanation) was a betrayal to peoples’ expectations of a sincere apology,” he added.
Kwon also pushed for a revote of the bill demanding a special investigation into the stock manipulation allegations made against the first lady. The bill was passed by the opposition-led National Assembly in December last year, but was quickly vetoed by Yoon. It is now pending a revote in the National Assembly.
The recently launched New Future Party questioned the purpose of the explanation and called the interview “a tragic case of a public broadcaster becoming the public relations firm for the president and his family,” through a commentary. The party is co-headed by former Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon and ex-Democratic Party Rep. Kim Jong-min.
New Reform Party Chair and former leader of the People Power Party Lee Jun-seok wrote in a Facebook post, “If the president had conducted investigations during his days as a prosecutor by the same standards by which he treats the first lady and her family, there would never have been ‘star prosecutor’ Yoon Suk Yeol.”
Lee pointed to Yoon’s past career as a prosecutor and as prosecutor general prior to taking office as president in early 2022.
In Wednesday’s interview, Yoon did not provide details on the whereabouts of the bag in question, which ruling People Power Party Rep. Lee Chul-gyu, who is close to the president, claimed earlier was being held in storage by the government.
In line with the latest criticisms against Yoon, critics bashed the KBS interviewer’s choice to refer to the Dior bag in question as “a pouch” and “small bag of a foreign brand,” when questioning about the scandal.
“The interviewer tried to minimize the situation by calling it a ‘pouch’ and ‘small bag of a foreign brand.’ (The entire interview) was merely an embarrassing PR video.” Democratic Party Rep. Park Ju-min said in a morning intra-party meeting.
Other critics, however, pointed out that the actual model of the bag is called by Christian Dior as “Lady Dior Pouch.”
The ruling People Power Party defended Yoon’s public explanation regarding the luxury bag scandal.
“(Yoon) particularly expressed a clear and forward-looking stance that there will be no misunderstanding and worries about the matter that the public has concerns,” stated Park Jeong-ha, chief spokesperson of the ruling party, in a statement.
Park also said that Yoon had pledged efforts to prevent the reoccurrence of such a scandal and mentioned reviewing the reinstatement of an office dedicated to assisting the first lady during the interview.
In December last year, a month after Voice of Seoul released the hidden camera footage of Kim accepting the luxury bag, the news outlet sued the first lady alleging she violated Korea’s anti-graft law, the Kim Young-ran Act.
The law forbids a public servant or their spouse from receiving a gift worth over 1 million won, even when no favor was given or sought in return. Violators face a maximum three-year prison term or fine of up to 30 million won.