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Democratic Party of Korea demands special counsel investigation of first lady

President Yoon Suk-yeol (left) and first lady Kim Keon-hee wave the national flags at the 77th National Liberation Day ceremony held at the presidential office in Yongsan, central Seoul, on Aug. 15. (Yonhap)
President Yoon Suk-yeol (left) and first lady Kim Keon-hee wave the national flags at the 77th National Liberation Day ceremony held at the presidential office in Yongsan, central Seoul, on Aug. 15. (Yonhap)

The main opposition Democratic Party of Korea is raising calls to appoint a special counsel to take over the ongoing investigation into first lady Kim Keon-hee.

The main opposition party’s Floor Leader Rep. Park Hong-keun told reporters Monday that if police and prosecutors “don’t do their jobs adequately,” appointing a special counsel to handle the investigations would be “unavoidable.”

In a first meeting on the same day, the party’s supreme council member Rep. Park Chan-dae accused police and prosecutors of “going easy on the first lady” and said the party may be “forced to push ahead” by launching a special counsel investigation.

The parliament can determine whether opening a special counsel investigation is warranted, which is then put up for vote in a plenary session. The president picks the special counsel from candidates submitted by a parliamentary committee.

Last week, Reps. Kim Yong-min, Hwang Un-ha and nine others of the Democratic Party and independent Rep. Min Hyung-bae, who was formerly with the Democratic Party, made the motion for a special counsel to be appointed to investigate the first lady.

In a joint statement, the lawmakers said there was “an unending stream of concerns about possible violations of ethics and other rules by the first lady.”


How first lady became ‘liability’

The first lady faces a lengthy list of allegations, several of which emerged while Yoon was still a candidate.

In December last year, Kim held a press conference and apologized for lying about her academic degrees and work experience on her resume to land teaching jobs at four to five different universities as recently as 2016. She said her credentials had been “misrepresented,” while denying that they were “complete fabrications.”

Her stock dealings have also come under scrutiny in connection with the ex-chairperson of Deutsch Motors, Kwon Oh-soo, who was arrested last year over suspicions of violating capital market law. Kwon allegedly manipulated stock prices using over 1 billion won ($742,000) financed by Kim between 2012 and 2013.

In light of the controversies, she had said at the December press conference that she would not have her own office as first lady and would refrain from the typical “first lady activities.” “Even if my husband becomes president, I would not have a role beyond that of a wife,” she said.

After her press conference, Yoon said in an interview with a local newspaper that “spouses of presidents should not be able to hold an official status.” “They are family, not elected officials,” he said.

But only about three months into Yoon’s term, Kim has already prompted a fresh set of ethics questions by hiring personal friends and acquaintances at the presidential office. The company that was chosen to renovate the presidential residence is suspected of having ties with the first lady as well.

As recently as last week, the president’s confidential itinerary was leaked through a fan group for the first lady, with the security service now investigating their point of contact at the presidential office. Her fans have also had access to previously undisclosed photographs of the president, which they posted online.

The Democratic Party has called Kim a “risk” and a “liability” to the president. “The ‘first lady risk’ is driving suspicions and controversies surrounding the presidential office,” the party said in an Aug. 6 statement. “The only person who can put a stop to this risk is President Yoon himself.”

Choi Jae-sung, a former senior secretary at Moon Jae-in’s Cheong Wa Dae, blamed the first lady for Yoon’s falling approval ratings in a July 1 radio interview.

On the criticism facing the first lady, Yoon said in June that his office was “working to set boundaries” for her roles. “As the president’s spouse there are some duties that cannot be skipped,” he said.

By Kim Arin (arin@heraldcorp.com)

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