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Presidential Wives in Hot Water: A Deep Dive into South Korea’s Latest Legal Drama

Daniel Kim Views  

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The prosecution is accelerating investigations into the spouses of former and current presidents. A dedicated team is investigating allegations of First Lady Kim Keon Hee accepting luxury bags and former First Lady Kim Jung Sook’s unofficial trip to India.

As they are investigating the spouses of public officials rather than the officials themselves, the legal community predicts that various opinions will be presented regarding legal interpretations and legality.

According to the legal community on the 24th, the Seoul Central District Prosecutor’s Office investigated Assistant Secretary Cho, a key figure related to the luxury bag acceptance allegations, as a reference on the 19th. On the same day, the Seoul Central District Prosecutor’s Office summoned and investigated Seoul City Councilor Lee Jong Bae, a member of the People Power Party and Kim Jung Sook’s accuser.

After the prosecutors investigated the related parties such as Pastor Choi Jae Young and Voice of Seoul, the investigation into Kim Keon Hee is moving towards her close associates. Last month, there seemed to be a hitch in the investigation due to a sudden appointment of a high-level prosecutor, but the confusion was settled when the presidential office retained the heads of Kim Keon Hee’s investigation team. Prosecutors are expected to conduct digital forensics on the seized items and simultaneously summon additional related individuals. Among the individuals mentioned for future summons are Administrative Officer Song at the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, and Kim’s secretaries Yu and Jeong from the presidential office.

The investigation into the allegations of Kim Jung Sook’s unofficial trip to the Taj Mahal in India has just begun. After questioning Lee last week and conducting an accuser investigation, the schedule for further summons was not announced. The legal community predicts that opinions regarding the relevance of official duties may differ within the investigation team, due to the unclear punishment regulations for the spouses, not the public officials themselves.

The prevailing opinion is that it will be difficult to punish Kim Keon Hee since there is no regulation punishing the spouse of a public official under the Prohibition of Solicitation Act. Previously, the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission dismissed the same case because there were no regulations. However, the prosecution stated that it will keep all possibilities open and proceed with the investigation.

The legal community believes that there is much remaining to examine in the case of Kim Jung Sook. The investigation is at an early stage, and additional accusations are still ongoing. The key point of the allegations is that she arranged an unofficial trip to the Taj Mahal in India for travel purposes in October 2018, setting aside approximately KRW 400 million (approximately $288,000) in contingency funds. The investigation will review whether the higher-ups were involved in the budgeting process at the time and whether the trip was related to her official duties.

A lawyer in Seocho said, “Since there is no regulation punishing the spouse of a public official, there will be various interpretations within the investigation team,” adding, “The prosecution is expected to thoroughly review the relevant laws.”

Daniel Kim
content@viewusglobal.com

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