‘Dior bag scandal’ hounds South Korea ruling party | Inquirer News
Prez, wife urged to apologize over ‘gift’

‘Dior bag scandal’ hounds South Korea ruling party

/ 05:40 AM January 25, 2024

South Korea's President Yoon Suk Yeol and his wife Kim Keon Hee walk during a ceremony in Amsterdam, Netherlands December 12, 2023.

South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol and his wife Kim Keon Hee walk during a ceremony in Amsterdam, Netherlands December 12, 2023. REUTERS

SEOUL — Hidden camera footage appearing to show South Korea’s first lady accepting a Dior bag as a gift has plunged President Yoon Suk-yeol and his party into a controversy that may threaten their bid to reclaim a parliamentary majority in April’s election.

Some members of Yoon’s conservative People Power Party (PPP) have urged the president and his wife Kim Keon-hee to apologize for the incident dubbed by local media the “Dior bag scandal,” and admit that receiving the purse was inappropriate, in the hope of putting the matter to rest.


Yoon’s office said it had no information to share.


‘Political bombshell’

By opting to remain silent, Yoon risks creating a flash point that could end up costing PPP the April 10 election, analysts say.

“It is a political bombshell,” said political analyst Rhee Jong-hoon. “The Kim Keon-hee risks are only going to get bigger.”

Yoon won a close election in 2022 but his PPP is a minority in the parliament, which is controlled by the rival Democratic Party (DP).

Analysts said Kim may have violated an antibribery law when, as the spouse of a government official, she accepted the purse that has a price tag of 3 million won, or $2,250.

But the president’s supporters say Kim is the victim of a smear campaign and an illegal plot to set her up.

Hidden camera

The case surfaced in November when a YouTube channel aired a video clip secretly recorded by a Korean American pastor with a hidden camera as he visited Kim and handed her the handbag.


Rev. Abraham Choi, who has been involved in religious exchanges with North Korea and is an advocate of engagement with Pyongyang, said he initially sought a meeting with Kim out of concern for Yoon’s hard-line North Korea policy.

Choi said that while Kim was a family acquaintance, her response to discussions over possible luxury gifts—including Chanel cosmetics he claims he gave her in their first meeting—led him to believe such gifts were the only way to secure an audience.

“You might say they were like an entry pass, a ticket for a meeting (with Kim),” Choi told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday.

Worked with reporter

Yoon’s office said it had no information to provide when asked about Choi’s claims.

An unnamed presidential official told Yonhap news agency last week that Choi had deliberately approached Kim with the intention of illegal filming, and that gifts to the couple are handled and stored as property of the government.

After a first meeting, Choi said he became concerned about Kim’s role in the administration and worked with a reporter at the YouTube channel, which airs left-wing news and commentary, to film her accepting the pricey bag during a second visit.

“A normal person would then say, ‘Reverend, I can’t see you if you do this,’” he said. “But the first lady gave me the place and time.”

Not the first instance

Kim also remains mired in allegations of stock price manipulation from about 12 years ago, a case for which the opposition-controlled parliament voted last month to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate.

PPP opposed the bill as a plot by the DP to hamper an investigation into its leader Lee Jae-myung on charges of corruption. Yoon vetoed the bill as politically motivated.

In 2021, Kim made a public apology after months of allegations of falsified professional records and plagiarism in her Ph.D. thesis.

Marie Antoinette

The charges nearly overshadowed Yoon’s campaign for president.

A number of PPP members have argued that public sentiment is focused on Kim and not the hidden camera sting, reflecting growing concern that the issue is leaving a bad impression with voters.

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Tension between Yoon’s office and PPP boiled over last week when party member Kim Kyung-yul likened the situation to the notoriety of Marie Antoinette, the French queen known for her profligacy.

TAGS: Dior bag scandal, Kim Keon-hee, South Korean politics, Yoon Suk-yeol

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