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‘Dior bag scandal’: Video of alleged graft threatens S. Korea president’s reelection

Feb 1

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A hidden camera allegedly captured South Korean first lady Kim Keon-hee accepting a lavish bag as a gift from Korean American Pastor Choi Jae-young. The incident, dubbed the “Dior Bag Scandal,” has become a flashpoint in South Korea’s political culture as President Yoon Suk Yeol’s conservative People’s Power Party (PPP) seeks to recapture the majority in the country’s upcoming Parliamentary elections.

The Dior bag allegedly given to Kim is reportedly worth $2,250, and it may be a violation of an anti-bribery law in South Korea. The law prohibits any government official from accepting a gift of more than $751, according to the Korea Law Translation Center.

The man who gifted Kim the bag, Pastor Choi, is an advocate for reunifying North and South Korea, according to The New York Times. President Yoon’s administration has said that while unification had been a goal, it will not pursue reunification until North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is no longer in power.

In July, Yoon’s unification minister, Kim Yung-ho, said the ministry had focused too much on providing aid for North Korea in the past and needed to change.

South Korea’s reunification minister is reportedly a conservative scholar and outspoken critic of human rights abuses in North Korea, which President Yoon is hoping to spotlight as tensions rise on the Korean Peninsula.

Yoon has been laser-focused on North Korea, as nuclear tests by adversary Kim Jong Un have caught the attention of South Korea and its allies.

In addition to enhanced aggression from North Korea, Yoon’s administration is dealing with unexpectedly slow economic growth in South Korea. Economists polled by Reuters blame the country’s high interest rates and national debt for a sluggish expansion of the economy.

Piling on top of South Korea’s challenges, Yoon is now forced to face issues in his personal life. The controversy around accusations his wife accepted an unlawful gift has captured the attention of voters.

According to The New York Times, Choi secretly filmed the encounter with a spy camera in a wristwatch. The video claims to show Choi visiting South Korea’s first lady in her personal office and gifting her a swanky bag. The New York Times also reports that Choi became motivated to expose Kim after a meeting with her. Choi said he overheard a conversation in which she appeared “to be playing the role of a senior government official.”

President Yoon and first lady Kim remain silent on the alleged gift scandal. However, members of Yoon’s own party have urged him and his wife to apologize, while others have questioned the timing of the recent release of the 2022 video. At the same time, the Times revealed the majority of South Korean voters surveyed want Yoon’s apology, an investigation, and believe, if true, the acceptance of the gift would be wrong.

Reuters reported that by maintaining his silence on the incident, Yoon is creating a situation that may end up costing PPP the April 10 election, according to analysts.

“It’s a political bombshell,” Rhee Jong-hoon, a political analyst, told Reuters. “The Kim Keon Hee risks are only going to get bigger.”

Yoon won a close presidential race in 2022 but his party remains in the minority in Parliament, which is controlled by the Democratic Party.

Some of Yoon’s political allies say that Kim is the victim, and the hidden camera incident is an example of an illegal plot to set her up and smear Yoon’s campaign. However, at least one expert said public sentiment doesn’t appear to be on the couple’s side.

“The general public thinks, ‘Okay, it may be a trap, but what did she take (the bag) for anyway?’ Shin Yul, a political science professor at Myongji University, told Reuters.

The political ramifications of the alleged gift acceptance by Yoon’s wife are far-reaching. Yoon is a staunch ally of the United States and Japan. Both countries have diplomatically and militarily shown their support for South Korea, as aggression from North Korea remains a concern for the foreseeable future.

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[LAUREN TAYLOR]

SOUTH KOREA’S FIRST LADY IS CARRYING SOME BAGGAGE THAT COULD THREATEN HER HUSBAND’S RE-ELECTION HOPES.

THE ISSUE IS HIDDEN CAMERA VIDEO THAT APPEARS TO SHOW FIRST LADY KIM KEON [KEY-ON] [HEE], ACCEPTING A TWO-THOUSAND, TWO-HUNDRED-FIFTY DOLLAR DIOR HANDBAG FROM A PASTOR WHO IS REPORTEDLY ADVOCATING FOR THE UNIFICATION OF THE KOREAN PENINSULA.

THE VIDEO APPEARS ON THE YOUTUBE CHANNEL “VOICE OF SEOUL.”

IT’S ANOTHER FLASHPOINT IN SOUTH KOREA’S TUMULTUOUS POLITICAL CULTURE. PRESIDENT YOON SUK YEOL’S ADMINISTRATION IS FACING MULTIPLE THREATS TO THE COUNTRY’S ECONOMY AND SECURITY…

THE ALLEGED GIFT SCANDAL COMES AT PIVOTAL TIME– AS YOON’S PARTY LOOKS TO REGAIN A MAJORITY OF SEATS IN APRIL’S ELECTION.

YOON’S ALLIES CLAIM THE RELEASE OF THE VIDEO, FILMED MORE THAN A YEAR AGO, IS POLITICALLY MOTIVATED, WITH THE INTENT OF JEOPARDIZING HIS POLITICAL ASPIRATIONS.

YOON AND HIS WIFE HAVE CHOSEN TO REMAIN SILENT ON THE ACCUSATIONS– SAYING THEY HAVE NO INFORMATION TO ADD.

SOUTH KOREA’S PRESIDENT HAS BEEN LASER-FOCUSED ON NORTH KOREA.

ONGOING NUCLEAR TESTS BY ADVERSARY KIM JONG UN HAVE CAUGHT THE WORLD’S ATTENTION IN THE NEW YEAR.

ON TOP OF THAT, UNEXPECTEDLY SLOW ECONOMIC GROWTH IS RAMPING UP PRESSURE ON YOON’S ADMINISTRATION.

ECONOMISTS POLLED BY REUTERS BLAME THE COUNTRY’S ECONOMIC SLOWDOWN ON HIGHER INTEREST RATES AND NATIONAL DEBT.

PILING ON TO THE COUNTRY’S CHALLENGES– YOON IS NOW FORCED TO FACE ISSUES IN HIS PERSONAL LIFE. THE CONTROVERSY AROUND ACCUSATIONS HIS WIFE ACCEPTED AN UNLAWFUL GIFT – IS CAPTURING VOTERS’ ATTENTION.

ACCORDING TO THE NEW YORK TIMES, THE KOREAN AMERICAN PASTOR AT THE CENTER OF THE ALLEGED GIFT-GIVING SECRETLY FILMED THE ENCOUNTER WITH A SPY CAMERA IN A WRISTWATCH. THE VIDEO CLAIMS TO SHOW THE PASTOR VISITING THE FIRST LADY IN HER OFFICE– AND GIFTING HER THE SWANKY BAG.THE NEWS OUTLET ALSO REPORTS, THE PASTOR BECAME MOTIVATED TO “EXPOSE” THE FIRST LADY AFTER A MEETING WITH HER. HE SAID HE OVERHEARD A CONVERSATION IN WHICH SHE APPEARED “TO BE PLAYING THE ROLE OF A SENIOR GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL.”

EXPERTS SAY THE ACCEPTANCE OF THE GIFT COULD BE A VIOLATION OF AN ANTI-BRIBERY LAW. ACCORDING TO THE KOREA LAW TRANSLATION CENTER, THE LAW DEFINES ANY GIFT OF MORE THAN ONE MILLION WON OR 751 U-S DOLLARS – TO BE A VIOLATION OF THE LAW– EVEN IF IT IS NOT FOUND TO BE A CONFLICT OF INTEREST. THE PUNISHMENT RANGES FROM IMPRISONMENT WITH LABOR TO HEFTY FINES, ACCORDING TO THE CENTER.

THE PRESIDENT AND FIRST LADY REMAIN SILENT ON THE INCIDENT NOW DUBBED THE “DIOR BAG SCANDAL.”

BUT MEMBERS OF YOON’S OWN PARTY ARE CALLING ON THE COUPLE TO APOLOGIZE. THE PUBLIC ALSO WANTS ANSWERS. THE NEW YORK TIMES REPORTS, A MAJORITY OF SOUTH KOREAN VOTERS POLLED WANT AN INVESTIGATION, AN EXPLANATION AND MOST BELIEVE IT WAS INAPPROPRIATE TO ACCEPT THE GIFT.

THE FIRST LADY’S ALLEGED ACCEPTANCE OF THE PURSE– ALSO BRINGS INTO QUESTION THE GIFT-GIVER. THE BAG COMES FROM A MAN WHO HAS ADVOCATED FOR FRIENDLY RELATIONS BETWEEN THE NORTH AND SOUTH.

YOON HAS TAKEN A HARDER LINE ON NORTH KOREA IN RECENT MONTHS AND HIS UNIFICATION MINISTER HAS SAID REUNIFICATION WOULD ONLY BE CONSIDERED– WHEN AND IF NORTH KOREAN LEADER KIM JONG UN’S “REGIME IS OVERTHROWN AND NORTH KOREA IS LIBERATED.”

THE POLITICAL RAMIFICATIONS GO BEYOND THE KOREAN PENINSULA. YOON IS A STAUNCH ALLY OF THE UNITED STATES AND JAPAN.  BOTH COUNTRIES HAVE DIPLOMATICALLY AND MILITARILY SHOWN THEIR SUPPORT FOR SOUTH KOREA– AS AGGRESSION FROM THE NORTH REMAINS A CONCERN FOR THE FORESEEABLE FUTURE.