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Mudslinging in full swing for two main presidential contenders and their families

Yoon faces criticism of wife while Lee apologizes for son’s gambling past

Yoon Suk-yeol, presidential nominee of the main opposition People Power Party, walks past reporters Thursday without answering their questions regarding the controversy surrounding his wife Kim Keon-hee. (Joint Press Corps)
Yoon Suk-yeol, presidential nominee of the main opposition People Power Party, walks past reporters Thursday without answering their questions regarding the controversy surrounding his wife Kim Keon-hee. (Joint Press Corps)
Controversies surrounding the families of the two leading presidential candidates are emerging one after another, threatening to overshadow the election itself -- and fanning questions about their moral aptness for the job.

Former Prosecutor General Yoon Suk-yeol, the presidential nominee for the main opposition People Power Party, has been swept in fierce criticism over his wife Kim Keon-hee allegedly falsifying her credentials when applying for a teaching job in 2007.

Outside her office Wednesday, she offered an apology of sorts to a Yonhap News Agency reporter for exaggerating and falsifying her credentials when successfully applying for a teaching position at Suwon Women’s University in 2007.

"Regardless of the facts, I apologize for the discomfort and fatigue the people may feel," she told the Yonhap reporter, a day after the news first broke in an interview she did with YTN released a day earlier.

In the application form obtained by YTN, Kim wrote that she served as a director for the Korea Association of Game Industry for three years beginning in March 2002. The association was officially established in June 2004.

She is also accused of falsely claiming that she won the grand prize at the Seoul International Cartoon & Animation Festival in 2004 on the application. Kim said in the YTN interview she sought to have her application "stand out" from those submitted by others.

Kim's stance shown Wednesday comes more apologetic and regretful of her actions than she was a day earlier, which is when she questioned how her action could be problematic, as "I didn’t even write down these accomplishments to advance to schools or anything."

She then emphasized she was not serving in an official role nor was she married to Yoon at the time, adding she doesn’t understand "why I have to undergo such verification." Kim, head of cultural firm Covana Contents, married Yoon in 2012.

Yoon deemed his wife’s comments appropriate, as it would be right to apologize to the people "even if the ruling camp’s attacks are orchestrated and however unfair they may feel."

Yet the candidate said he will not make a public apology for his wife‘s past at the moment, as he apologized in remarks to reporters on some occasions over the past two days. He added further moves will be made after his election campaign committee completes its own fact-checking of the allegations surrounding Kim.

The ruling Democratic Party of Korea has fiercely attacked Yoon over his wife’s past actions, denouncing Yoon for double standards in emphasizing justice and fairness as his core strengths as a presidential candidate.

Yoon and his aides have been more protective of his wife's past, the ruling party says, even after he fiercely criticized former Justice Minister Cho Kuk’s wife Chung Kyung-sim over allegations of forging documents to help their daughter gain admission to medical school.

Chung’s four-year prison term was confirmed at the Seoul High Court in August.

"Would anyone have imagined the justice minister of South Korea and his wife to forge documents and involve themselves in illegally gaining admission for their child like a scene from the movie 'Parasite'?" said Kim Byung-min, a spokesperson for Yoon’s presidential campaign team after the appellate ruling was announced.

The Democratic Party also raised allegations that Kim forged credentials when applying for a teaching job at Anyang University in 2013, claiming she had used her false credentials a total of 18 times while applying for teaching jobs at five universities in the past.

Lee Jae-myung, presidential nominee of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, bows to apologize for his son`s illegal gambling at his campaign event held Thursday. (Joint Press Corps)
Lee Jae-myung, presidential nominee of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, bows to apologize for his son`s illegal gambling at his campaign event held Thursday. (Joint Press Corps)
The family risk and question of morality also comes as a great risk for Yoon’s rival Lee Jae-myung of the Democratic Party, as past records have shown that Lee himself has been involved in a number of crimes, as have at least a few of his family members.

Lee on Thursday apologized for allegations that his 29-year-old son had engaged in illegal gambling from January 2019 to July 2020 via online poker. The Chosun Ilbo earlier reported that the son visited illegal gambling sites in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province on multiple occasions while attempting to trade poker tokens over the internet.

"The one who signed up for a card game website and wrote posts there as described in media reports is my son," Lee said in a statement. "As a father, I deeply apologize with my son for those who would have been disappointed with my son’s wrongful behaviors."

Lee added that his son also regrets his past actions and that he was reminded to take responsibility for his problematic acts and undergo treatment as needed.

His son sent a statement to reporters afterwards saying he regrets his illegal gambling and that he will "assume all responsibilities and atone over his misdeeds."

The ruling party candidate previously faced criticism for defending a nephew who brutally killed two women and for then downplaying the crime while serving as a defense attorney for the case in 2006. He was additionally criticized for citing the defendant‘s mental illness in his defense when he himself has publicly criticized the practice of reducing sentences on health grounds.

The candidate has also been dogged by a number of high-profile scandals and criminal allegations surrounding his personal life.

Lee was fined 1.5 million won ($1,270) for driving under the influence in 2004, 5 million won in 2004 for damaging public property and 1.5 million won in 2002 for assisting in prosecutor impersonation.

By Ko Jun-tae (ko.juntae@heraldcorp.com)
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