The anti-corruption agency’s decision on the first lady’s luxury handbag scandal is met with sharp reactions

First Lady Kim Keon Hee, second from left, arrives at Seoul Airport in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, to fly to Turkmenistan on Monday. Yonhap

Opposition parties are expected to quickly call for a special counsel investigation into the Kim Keon Hee cases

Author: Kwak Yeon-soo

The Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission is facing fierce opposition from opposition parties over its decision to close its review of First Lady Kim Keon Hee’s luxury handbag scandal, citing the lack of a penalty clause for spouses of public officials under the anti-graft law.

Kim was accused of illegally receiving a luxury Christian Dior handbag worth 3 million won ($2,178) from Korean-American pastor Choi Jae-young, who conspired with the Voice of Seoul YouTube media channel to secretly film his meeting with Kim in 2022 .

The decision came nearly six months after the civic group People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy filed a corruption complaint in December against President Yoon Suk Yeol and the first lady, as well as a pastor, on charges of violating the Improper Solicitation and Bribery Act.

The main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) sharply criticized the commission’s decision to clear Kim of bribery charges, vowing to continue a special investigation into the luxury handbag scandal and other suspicions involving the first lady.

“Was the commission’s decision to close the case a parting gift for the first lady, who embarked on a week-long trip to Central Asia with the president?” – asked Republican Yoon Jong-kun from DPK in a statement, pointing out that the result was made public in the hours after the presidential couple left for Turkmenistan.

“The DPK is quickly pushing for a special counsel investigation into cases involving Kim to prevent her from escaping.”

On Tuesday, in front of the commission building in Seoul, the civic group People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy is holding a press conference to protest against the decision of the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission to close the case on First Lady Kim Keon Hee’s luxury handbag scandal. Yonhap

Attorney General Lee One-seok said prosecutors will continue investigating the case in accordance with the law. In addition to the investigation conducted by the anti-corruption agency, the case is also being handled by the Seoul Central District Prosecutor’s Office.

“The prosecutor’s office strives to conduct the investigation based on evidence and legal principles, without taking into account political factions or particular interests,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

Rep. Cho Kuk, leader of the small opposition Korea Reconstruction Party, criticized the commission’s decision.

“Although the Improper Solicitation and Bribery Act does not provide any provisions for children of public officials, a court found my daughter guilty of receiving a college scholarship,” he wrote on Facebook on Tuesday.

The Reform Party also condemned the commission for reaching a “hasty, unreasonable and senseless conclusion”.

“It is deeply regrettable that the commission, which is supposed to be the last bastion in the fight against corruption, has failed to fulfill its role. It should serve the people, not the president,” party chief spokesman Kim Seong-yeol said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Popular Solidarity for Participatory Democracy condemned the commission’s decision, arguing that it showed a complete disregard for the common understanding that public officials – including their spouses – should under no circumstances accept money, valuables or other benefits.