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Minister nominee under fire for wife’s alleged porcelain smuggling

Oceans Minister nominee Park Jun-young speaks during his confirmation hearing held Tuesday at National Assembly. On the screen is the porcelain ware his wife purchased during their stay in London. (Yonhap)
Oceans Minister nominee Park Jun-young speaks during his confirmation hearing held Tuesday at National Assembly. On the screen is the porcelain ware his wife purchased during their stay in London. (Yonhap)
Oceans Minister nominee Park Jun-young is facing criticism over allegations his wife smuggled in highly valuable porcelain without a customs declaration and sold it to customers while running a cafe.

Rep. Kim Sun-gyo of the main opposition People Power Party first raised the issue last week, suggesting Park’s wife bought a large quantity of porcelain teacups, teapots, plates and ornaments in Britain and brought them back to Korea without reporting it to customs, before illegally selling some of them locally.

Park’s wife accompanied and lived with her husband in Britain while the nominee served as a minister counselor for the South Korean Embassy in London from 2015 to 2018. The items were sold to customers at a cafe in Gyeonggi Province, which his wife has run since last year.

The issue took center stage of Park’s confirmation hearing Tuesday, during which the nominee apologized and vowed to comply with any further actions from customs authorities moving forward.

“As there could be a violation of customs law, we are in discussion with the customs office on how to resolve this matter,” the nominee said. “This problem has grown too big, and my wife is struggling, so the cafe has stopped operation and will stay that way in the future.”

Smuggling goods without a customs declaration could be subject to up to five years in prison or a fine of 10 times the value of the smuggled items.

Korean Air heiress Cho Hyun-ah was sentenced to eight months in prison, suspended for two years, for smuggling goods worth about 88 million won ($78,000) from abroad via Korean Air flights from 2012 to 2018.

Park explained during the confirmation hearing that his wife did not intentionally break the customs law, as she started purchasing British china as a hobby while he was working at the embassy. The porcelain ware was bought for use at home in Britain, he added.

Kim disputed Park’s clarification, saying his home provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs while Park was in Britain was a little less than 100 square meters in size.

The nominee reported that his wife purchased a total of 1,250 pieces of porcelain ware while in Britain. The list of items includes 50 teapots, 400 teacups, 200 decorative dishes, 100 porcelain flowers and 400 other decorative items.

The items were bought from flea markets and cost up to 20 pounds ($28) each, Park explained, meaning that the collection could be worth tens of millions of won. Park’s wife also bought eight chandeliers, each of which are believed to cost millions of won.

The problem extends as Park’s wife allegedly sold some of the porcelain ware in Korea after failing to report the goods to customs when bringing them into the country.

The nominee’s wife opened a cafe in late 2019 to prepare for Park’s retirement, and the porcelain she purchased in Britain was displayed inside. Park said some customers at the cafe expressed interest in the collection and bought items from his wife from time to time.

“The goods my wife brought from Britain were used for real life and decoration, and we did not have intention to sell the goods, which were not highly priced at the time,” Park clarified in a statement prepared for the hearing.

“The porcelain ware was displayed at the cafe to distinguish itself from other stores, and we sold some of the items not knowing it would be illegal.”

Park said the cafe raised a total of 32 million won in sales from the start of 2020 to April 16, 2021. His wife estimates that 10 percent of the sales were from the porcelain ware, he added.

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