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Prosecutors to summon pastor who allegedly gave Dior bag to first lady

By Lee Jaeeun

Published : May 12, 2024 - 15:12

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In this photo taken in February 2023, first lady Kim Keon Hee visits an exhibition presenting the Oegyujanggak Uigwe, a collection of records that explain how to prepare for and conduct royal ceremonies during the Joseon era. (Presidential office) In this photo taken in February 2023, first lady Kim Keon Hee visits an exhibition presenting the Oegyujanggak Uigwe, a collection of records that explain how to prepare for and conduct royal ceremonies during the Joseon era. (Presidential office)

The South Korean prosecution is gearing up to summon Korean American pastor Choi Jae-young whose spy camera footage shows him meeting with first lady Kim Keon Hee and giving her a Christian Dior handbag valued at 3 million won ($2,210).

The Seoul Central District Prosecutor's Office is scheduled to question Choi officially on Monday for the first time. It comes in the wake of the video's public disclosure last November by local media outlet and YouTube channel Voice of Seoul.

The outlet said it had provided the spy camera embedded in a watch and reporter Lee Myung-soo had personally purchased the Dior Bag with his own funds.

The prosecution aims to investigate whether the handbag was offered as an act of improper solicitation related to a job or duties.

Prosecutors have also requested the original video footage filmed by Choi, transcripts of his KakaoTalk conversations with the first lady, and notes he wrote at the time detailing the circumstances of the luxury bag's delivery to the first lady, according to local reports.

In a press conference held at the National Assembly this January, Choi disclosed that the footage had been captured with a spy cam in September 2022. He said that his connection to Kim's father had enabled him to meet with Kim.

Choi has asserted that he chose to film the video for the public interest to document and expose Kim's alleged abuse of power as the first lady in the appointments of high-ranking officials.

Voice of Seoul filed a complaint against President Yoon and the first lady on suspicions of violating the Improper Solicitation and Graft Act, which forbid public officials and their spouses from receiving gifts valued at more than 1 million won at one time or a total of 3 million won in a single year from the same person.

However, activists, including Kim Soon-hwan, secretary general of the People's Welfare Countermeasure Committee, and Hong Jeong-sik, leader of a civic group called Hwalbindan, had previously urged prosecutors to investigate Choi.

According to their claims, Choi had deliberately approached the first lady in September 2022 and secretly filmed the handbag's delivery. They accused him of trespassing, obstructing official duties, defamation and violating anti-graft laws.

The summoning of Choi as a suspect comes as the top prosecutor has pledged to speed up its investigation into allegations involving the first lady. In May, Prosecutor General Lee One-seok ordered the creation of an investigation team dedicated to such allegations and pledged to conduct it speedily and strictly.

On Thursday, the prosecution interrogated two civic activists who filed complaints against Choi. They also announced plans to summon Baek Eun-jong, the director of Voice of Seoul, on May 20. Baek is expected to be summoned as a complainant against Yoon and the first lady.

The first lady's alleged receipt of the luxury bag has become a focal point of political debate since the footage was released last November.

During a press conference on Thursday marking his presidency's second year, Yoon publicly apologized to the public for what he described as his "wife's unwise conduct." This marks the first formal apology from Yoon regarding the issue, as he had previously only expressed regret.

However, Yoon simultaneously dismissed ongoing calls for a special counsel probe into the Dior Bag case, labeling them as a political attack orchestrated by the opposition.