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[Editorial] Absurd reason

Cheong Wa Dae refuses to disclose costs of first lady’s outfits, citing national security

A citizen posted a petition on the website of the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae on March 18 asking for disclosure of protocol expenses for First Lady Kim Jung-sook, such as costs of clothes, accessories and shoes she bought to attend official events.

The petitioner said that if the office acted squarely and above board, it has no reason to refuse to disclose them.

On March 15, a similar petition was made on the website, requesting an immediate disclosure of Kim’s ceremonial expenses.

The petitions were made apparently because disclosure of Kim’s protocol costs before the current presidency ends seems difficult.

She was often photographed wearing various clothes, accessories and shoes after her husband started his presidential term. It was unusual for her to wear the same clothes twice.

Controversy over her clothes dates back to June, 2018. The Korea Taxpayers Association requested the presidential office disclose information related to the protocol expenses for the first lady, such as the purchase prices of clothes, accessories and shoes, and also details of “special activity” expenses after Moon’s presidential inauguration.

The group wanted to know the scale of her ceremonial expenses and whether they were paid from the presidential office’s official but undisclosed budget for “special activities.”

But Cheong Wa Dae refused to disclose related information, calling it a “state secret” containing sensitive data related to “national security.” The issue eventually was taken to the court.

On Feb. 10, the Seoul Administrative Court ruled in favor of the taxpayers’ association. But Cheong Wa Dae appealed on March 2. The Seoul High Court will start the second trial sooner or later.

Then, Cheong Wa Dae is said to be considering designating related data as presidential archives. If designated so, they will be sealed for up to 30 years. Considering remaining procedures to take before starting the second trial, the appeals court is unlikely to hand down its ruling before May 9 when Moon’s presidency ends.

Many people wonder what the presidential office is so afraid of that it obstinately refuses to disclose the costs of Kim’s outfits.

Few would believe that the costs of the first lady’s clothes and accessories are a state secret related to national security. People suspect the office of treating the costs as a state secret because they are too large. If the first lady bought clothes and accessories with her own money or her husband’s salary, it is questionable if Cheong Wa Dae stubbornly refused to disclose related data.

Some netizens directly counted her clothes and accessories to 178 and 207, respectively, in the photos taken by news media. They estimate their total cost at billions of won. A leopard-shaped brooch is a controversial case in point. If the brooch she was pictured wearing in an event in July, 2018 was a real “Panthere de Cartier brooch” as some argue, it is about 200 million won ($163,000). Supporters for Moon argue that the brooch is an inexpensive fake or a different brand. The argument that it is an imitation of a luxury brand item is less convincing, because counterfeits are illegal and few believe the first lady showed off an illegal imitation.

Moon did not appoint a special inspector whose job is to look into allegations involving the first family. People suspect if he did so to let his wife buy clothes, accessories and the like freely without being monitored.

As the leader of an opposition party, Moon strongly demanded the disclosure of special activity expenses of Cheong Wa Dae. He vowed to spend his own money buying all of his private items, right down to toothbrushes, if he moved into Cheong Wa Dae.

If it keeps refusing to disclose data, most people will regard its refusal as acknowledgment that the rumors are true and view the first couple as hypocrites. Is it OK if people do that?

By Korea Herald (khnews@heraldcorp.com)
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