The Korea Herald


Prosecutors summon pastor involved in Dior bag scandal

Justice Ministry replaces new Seoul prosecutor chief amid ongoing probe of first lady

By Jung Min-kyung

Published : May 13, 2024 - 15:20

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Korean American pastor Choi Jae-young talks to reporters in front of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office on Monday. (Yonhap) Korean American pastor Choi Jae-young talks to reporters in front of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office on Monday. (Yonhap)

A Korean American pastor accused of gifting a luxury Christian Dior handbag valued at 3 million won ($2,210) to first lady Kim Keon Hee in September 2022 was summoned and questioned by prosecutors for the first time Monday.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office sought to investigate the motive behind Choi Jae-young’s decision to hand the luxury bag to Kim, while using a spy cam to secretly film the meeting, according to officials.

Whether Choi violated the nation’s Improper Solicitation and Graft Act, also known as the Kim Young-ran Act, which forbids public officials and their spouses from receiving gifts valued at more than 1 million won at a time or a total of 3 million won in a single year from the same person, was to be probed as well.

Choi, charged with violation of the above act, trespassing and obstruction of official duties, appeared at the prosecutors’ office at 9:17 a.m. to answer reporter questions before the interrogation scheduled for 9:30 a.m.

“It was an act of undercover journalism to reveal the (true face of) President Yoon Suk Yeol and first lady Kim Keon Hee to the public,” Choi told reporters, stressing that his actions had been in the public interest.

"The president, who is in charge of state affairs, and his spouse are supposed to be clean-handed to a fault, but they were not. The true essence of this case is not the first lady's receipt of the Dior bag, but the exploitation and privatization of presidential authority," he said.

Choi did not submit evidence requested by prosecutors, saying that he had handed all of the conversations he had with Kim on messenger app KakaoTalk, the original spy cam footage and the spy cam itself, which was embedded in his wristwatch, to reporters.

Prosecutors plan to summon Baek Eun-jong, head of Voice of Seoul, the local media outlet and YouTube channel, where the spy cam footage was uploaded in November last year, on May 20. Baek has filed a complaint against Yoon and Kim on suspicions of bribery and antigraft law violations.

Monday’s questioning comes as the prosecution launched a high-profile probe into the first lady’s Dior bag case, which shook the public and the political sphere here ahead of the April 10 parliamentary election.

Amid the ongoing probe, the Justice Ministry on Monday afternoon named Lee Chang-soo, the current head of the Jeonju District Prosecutors' Office, as the new chief of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office, in a major personnel reshuffle. Lee will officially replace Song Kyung-ho, the current chief of the Seoul office, on May 16. Song was appointed as the chief of the Busan High Prosecutors' Office.

Lee, 53, who is widely known as an aide of Yoon, is expected to take the helm of the Seoul office, as it carries out the investigation into the Dior bag case and the stock manipulation allegations involving Yoon's wife.

The latest reshuffle involved a total of 39 prosecutors and was carried out to fill existing voids in high-level positions within the prosecution, the ministry said.

The first lady has been absent from the public eye for five months since mid-December, when she was last officially seen in public upon her return from the Netherlands alongside Yoon. Though there were reported sightings of her casting a ballot in the April general election, the presidential office has remained silent about her whereabouts.