Former Korean first lady causes stir over solo trip to India

Former first lady Kim Jung-sook, left, is greeted by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the prime minister's residence in New Delhi in this photo from Nov. 5, 2018. Yonhap

Former first lady Kim Jung-sook has stirred up a belated controversy over her visit to India in 2018. Following the recent release of former President Moon Jae-in’s memoir, in which he wrote about his wife’s solo trip to India, the ruling People Power Party (PPP) criticized Kim for spending 400 million won in public funds, including about 62 million won ($45,109) on in-flight meals and taking a trip to the Taj Mahal to fulfill her personal wishes with taxpayer money.

Along with the lavish meals, Kim’s visit has drawn controversy over whether she was officially invited, as it was the first time in 16 years that a Korean first lady had made a foreign visit without being accompanied by the president.

The PPP has claimed that her taxpayer-funded visit was aimed at fulfilling her personal wish to visit the Taj Mahal, despite Moon’s explanation that the Indian government invited her.

On Monday, Rep. Yoon Sang-hyun of the PPP proposed a bill calling for a special counsel to investigate allegations that Kim abused her power by traveling abroad, choosing to hire a daughter of her designer friend, taking swimming lessons from the presidential guard and using the so-called “costs for special activities” for personal shopping purchases.

“The bill is to prevent similar incidents related to spousal misconduct. All are equal before the law,” Yoon said.

The main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) accused the PPP’s move of being politically motivated, saying that the PPP is trying 토토 to counterattack opposition parties’ calls to launch a special counsel to investigate first lady Kim Keon Hee’s alleged acceptance of a luxury bag gift and involvement in stock manipulation.

Rep. Youn Kun-young of the DPK, who served at the presidential office during the Moon Jae-in administration, denounced the PPP for its “smear campaign” against Kim.

“The PPP is spreading baseless claims about Kim’s 2018 trip to India. Kim said she would file a defamation complaint against those who are involved. Though a former president’s spouse is a public figure, fake news should not be tolerated because that doesn’t benefit social and political development,” Youn told reporters, Tuesday.

Minor opposition Reform Party Rep. Lee Jun-seok also called the proposal “foolish,” saying that it reflects that even the ruling party doesn’t trust government agencies.

“Originally, special counsel probes are pushed by opposition parties. If the ruling party wants to investigate Kim, they can simply report the case to the investigative agency,” Lee said.

Yoon’s bill also drew criticism from some PPP lawmakers. Those who oppose the idea suggested that the investigation should be entrusted to the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission.

“If we insist on doing everything through a special prosecutor, why should there be prosecutors, police and judiciary?” Rep. Sung Il-jong of the PPP said.

Rep. Na Kyung-won of the PPP, a five-term lawmaker, said special counsel probes should be undertaken with caution.

“Suspicions related to Kim have been raised. I think we need to see how the investigation goes first, and then conduct a special counsel probe if necessary,” she said.

Former lawmaker Yoo Seong-min said he is worried that the bill may fall short of gaining public support.

“The public currently supports bills mandating special counsel investigations into the military’s response to a Marine’s death and first lady Kim Keon Hee. I’m worried how the public will perceive a bill calling for a special counsel to investigate former first lady Kim Jung-sook,” he said.

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