Dior bag scandal rocks South Korea’s ruling party

A luxury bag gift allegedly received by South Korea’s first lady has triggered a political crisis for the president and his ruling party ahead of the upcoming elections.

A luxury bag gift allegedly received by South Korean First Lady Kim Keon Hee has sparked a political crisis for the ruling People Power Party (PPP).

A spy camera video that emerged late last year showed a pastor giving her a Christian Dior bag.

The scandal could jeopardize the chances of President Yoon Suk Yeol’s party in the upcoming elections in April, according to some analysts.

Polls indicate that voters demand an explanation from Yoon, while his rivals have exploited the issue to criticize him.

The video, which was posted by a left-leaning YouTube channel called Voice of Seoul, was reportedly secretly recorded by the pastor Choi Jae-young using a watch camera.

The footage showed Choi buying the greyish-blue calfskin bag, which cost 3m won ($2,200; £1,800) according to the receipt. Choi then went to Covana Contents, a Seoul-based company owned by the first lady, where Kim asked him, “Why do you keep bringing me these things?”

Local media reported that the bag was given to the first lady in September 2022.

The Korea Herald said that the presidential office acknowledged receiving the bag and said that it was “being managed and stored as a property of the government”, although the video did not clearly show Kim accepting the gift.

Yonhap news agency, citing unnamed sources, said that Yoon’s office was expected to address the issue “as early as this month”.

A recent survey showed that 69% of the eligible voters in the country wanted the president to clarify his wife’s actions. A previous poll in December showed that 53% of the respondents thought her behaviour was improper.

The scandal is escalating just three months before South Korea’s legislative elections. It also coincides with Yoon’s approval ratings rising slightly after a steady decline over the past year.

Rhee Jong-hoon, a political analyst based in Seoul, called it a “political bombshell”.

He told Reuters news agency that “the Kim Keon Hee risks are only going to get bigger”.

The opposition Democratic Party has also used the issue to attack Yoon and the PPP. Its leader Hong Ik-pyo said that “it makes no sense for the presidential office and the ruling party to continue to ignore this and talk as if an apology will end the matter”.

South Korean law prohibits public officials and their spouses from receiving gifts worth more than 1m won at once, or a total of 3m won within a fiscal year.

The scandal has also created divisions within Yoon’s party.

Yoon reportedly asked his party’s leader Han Dong-hoon to step down after Han said that the controversy “can be a matter of public concern”.

The Korea Times quoted Han as saying that “the matter was a planned set-up using a spy cam. However, there were several misdeeds in handling the issues”.

Han and Yoon seem to have repaired their relationship and Han remains in the party.

Kim Jae-chun, a political science professor at Sogang University, told The Straits Times that Yoon’s initial reaction could have been politically damaging.

He said that Yoon might have angrily called his chief of staff and said, ‘Just go’ to that guy… I mean, you only have 77 days left to the election (as at Jan 24)”.

Kim Kyung-yul, another PPP leader, also stirred controversy last week when he compared the first lady with Marie Antoinette, the infamous French queen known for her lavish lifestyle.

This is the latest in a series of controversies involving South Korea’s 51-year-old first lady.

The opposition has accused Kim of being involved in stock market manipulation for a long time. Yoon vetoed a bill earlier this month that called for his wife to be investigated over these allegations.

The government of Seoul cancelled an expressway project last year, following claims that its building would enrich Ms Kim’s family by increasing the value of their land.

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