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Prosecution launches investigation into former first lady's trip to India

By Lee Jaeeun

Published : June 11, 2024 - 16:04

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Former President Moon Jae-in's memoirs are displayed at Kyobo Bookstore in Gwanghwamun, Seoul, on May 18. Yonhap Former President Moon Jae-in's memoirs are displayed at Kyobo Bookstore in Gwanghwamun, Seoul, on May 18. Yonhap

The prosecution has recently launched an investigation into accusations that former first lady Kim Jung-sook spent an “excessive” amount of taxpayers’ money to fund her 2018 trip to India, which has resurfaced in recent days, the Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office said Tuesday.

The decision to open the investigation comes nearly six months after the complaint was filed.

In December last year, Lee Jong-bae, a People Power Party member on the Seoul Metropolitan Council, filed a complaint against Kim with the Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office, accusing her of breach of trust related to the India trip, abusing public funds, embezzling from the national coffers and abuse of power.

According to the Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office, it has recently decided to open the investigation amid growing controversy that her visit wasted taxpayer money. Prosecutors plan to look into the exact circumstances that led to Kim's trip to India, as well as whether the expense of the trip was properly paid.

The controversy surrounding Kim's visit to India has recently been reignited as former President Moon Jae-in published his memoir on May 18, titled "From the Periphery to the Center," containing Moon's reflections on significant issues during his presidency from May 2017 to May 2022.

Central to the renewed debate was Moon's description of his wife's visit to India using the presidential jet, which also drew criticism from conservatives at the time. They argued that the first lady's trip amounted to a junket financed by taxpayer money.

"Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited me to return to India for the opening of the Heo Hwang-ok Memorial Park, but it was difficult for me to visit India again," Moon wrote.

"So I declined, and India then asked me to send my wife instead. The reason I elaborate on this is that there are people who maliciously distort the facts as if my wife went on a junket using taxpayer money."

Moon described the visit as "the first standalone diplomacy by a first lady." It was the first time the former president spoke about the controversy, which has been criticized by the conservatives for years.

Kim's visit has sparked controversy over whether she was officially invited for the visit that cost 400 million won ($278,940), as it was the first time in 16 years that a Korean first lady had made a foreign visit without the president. The ruling People Power Party has claimed that her taxpayer-funded visit was aimed at fulfilling her wish to visit the Taj Mahal, despite Moon's explanation that the Indian government invited her.

Also, the People Power Party has criticized Kim for spending 400 million won of public funds, including about 62 million won on lavish in-flight meals.

Rep. Yoon Sang-hyun of the People Power Party proposed a bill Monday calling for a special counsel to investigate allegations that Kim abused her power, including by traveling abroad.

The main opposition Democratic Party of Korea, however, accused the People Power Party’s move of being politically motivated, saying that the ruling party is trying to counterattack opposition parties’ calls to launch a special counsel to investigate first lady Kim Keon Hee's alleged acceptance of a luxury bag gift and involvement in stock manipulation.