Luxury bag controversy shakes South Korea’s ruling party as first lady faces scrutiny

Late last year, camera footage emerged, showing a pastor presenting the luxury bag to the first lady

South Koreas President Yoon Suk Yeol and his wife Kim Keon Hee walk during a ceremony in Amsterdam, Netherlands December 12, 2023. —Reuters
South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol and his wife Kim Keon Hee walk during a ceremony in Amsterdam, Netherlands December 12, 2023. —Reuters

The controversy surrounding South Korean First Lady Kim Keon Hee and the alleged acceptance of a luxury Dior bag has plunged the ruling People Power Party (PPP) into disarray, posing a threat to President Yoon Suk Yeol’s party in the upcoming April elections.

Late last year, spy camera footage emerged, seemingly showing a pastor presenting the luxury bag to the first lady. The scandal, widely covered by left-wing media, has become a focal point in political discourse and could impact the PPP’s electoral prospects.

While the video doesn’t explicitly depict the first lady accepting the gift, a presidential office confirmation and its management as government property have fueled public discontent. 

Recent polls indicate that 69% of eligible voters demand an explanation from President Yoon about his wife’s actions, while a December poll suggested that 53% found her behaviour inappropriate.

With legislative elections just three months away, the scandal comes at a crucial time for President Yoon, whose approval ratings have been gradually recovering. Political analysts describe the situation as a “political bombshell,” with potential ramifications for the PPP.

The opposition Democratic Party has seized on the issue to criticise President Yoon and the ruling party. The controversy has also led to internal divisions within the PPP, as President Yoon reportedly urged the party leader, Han Dong-hoon, to resign after he acknowledged the matter as a “public concern.” Despite tensions, both men continue to work within the party.

Amidst the scandal, comparisons have been drawn between the First Lady and Marie Antoinette, known for her extravagant lifestyle. This controversy is the latest in a series involving Kim Keon Hee, including allegations of stock price manipulation and a scrapped expressway project raising questions about potential financial benefits to her family.

As South Korea heads toward a critical election period, the luxury bag scandal threatens to reshape the political landscape, prompting calls for transparency and accountability from President Yoon and the PPP.

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