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Former first lady's Chanel jacket row revived as ruling party returns fire

By Jung Min-kyung

Published : Jan. 29, 2024 - 15:35

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Former first lady Kim Jung-sook, left, wears the controversial custom-made Chanel jacket as she tours Louvre Museum in Paris with France's current first lady Brigitte Macron during former President Moon Jae-in's state visit to France in October 2018. (Cheong Wa Dae) Former first lady Kim Jung-sook, left, wears the controversial custom-made Chanel jacket as she tours Louvre Museum in Paris with France's current first lady Brigitte Macron during former President Moon Jae-in's state visit to France in October 2018. (Cheong Wa Dae)

Amid escalating tensions over graft accusations against first lady Kim Keon Hee involving a Christian Dior handbag, the ruling party on Monday called for an investigation into similar allegations surrounding the former first lady.

The People Power Party brought up long-standing allegations that former President Moon Jae-in's wife Kim Jung-sook used taxpayers' money to purchase a custom-made Chanel jacket in around 2018.

"What really needs to be addressed and questioned is the current whereabouts of the Chanel jacket worn by ex-first lady Kim Jung-sook when she accompanied her husband to his state visit to France in 2018, alongside her overseas travels that led to a noticeable loss in government funds," People Power Party Rep. Kang Min-kuk said ahead of an emergency National Policy Committee meeting led by the main opposition.

The National Assembly's policy committee was holding the meeting to address several pending issues, including allegations that Kim Keon Hee inappropriately accepted a luxury bag gift from a Korean American pastor last year. Ruling party lawmakers boycotted Monday's committee meeting.

Kang's accusations were in line with claims made by People Power Party Rep. Lee Jong-bae and several civic groups that Kim Jung-sook had decided to keep the Chanel jacket lent by the luxury brand for her 2018 trip to France when she accompanied her husband in his state visit.

Lee said in a press conference in front of the Seoul Central District Prosecutor's Office earlier this month that "the whereabouts of the Chanel jacket are unknown at the moment."

He said that "no one has actually seen the jacket in question which officials said was being kept in Chanel headquarters (in France)."

The controversy surrounding the black and white luxury jacket, adorned with Hangeul letters and the value of which is unknown, was ignited in 2022 as officials released contradicting statements regarding its whereabouts.

A Chanel jacket of a similar design was displayed at a 2022 exhibition co-hosted by the National Hangeul Museum and Incheon International Airport Corp. Observers initially believed the jacket was the same one worn by Kim Jung-sook, backed by Moon's presidential office's claims, but other officials have said otherwise.

Shin Hye-hyun, the presidential office's deputy spokesperson at the time said during a briefing in April 2022 that the jacket was lent by Chanel and was returned to the brand by the ex-first lady. The luxury brand decided to "donate the jacket to the National Hangeul Museum, which led to its exhibition," Shin added.

Tak Hyun-min, a protocol presidential aide to Moon, echoed Shin saying that "Chanel decided to donate (the jacket) to Korea and it is likely the one that is being exhibited."

Overall, Moon's presidential office denied that Kim Jung-sook used taxpayers' money to buy any of her clothes.

But Chanel Korea, the luxury brand's South Korean unit, later released a contradicting statement saying that though the jacket was returned, the one donated to the museum for exhibition was a different jacket.

The Moon administration has yet to verify its claims regarding its claims that the jacket was returned to Chanel for good.

In early 2022, a Seoul court sided with local civic group Korea Taxpayers' Association to reveal the receipts tied to special activity expenses spent by Moon's office and his family. Moon's office appealed to the ruling that it should disclose information on its off-the-record expenses, which include money spent on clandestine operations and the first lady's spending.

The feud between Korea's two main parties comes as President Yoon Suk Yeol has been facing mounting pressure to clarify his stance regarding footage of his wife receiving a Dior luxury handbag worth 3 million won ($2,250) from Korean American pastor Choi Jae-young. The footage was revealed by the Voice of Seoul news outlet in November. Choi claimed to have given the bag to Kim in September 2022.