South Korea's First Lady Missing Since December Following Dior Scandal

Written by Henrik Rothen

Mar.25 - 2024 7:24 PM CET

This Dior Handbag started the scandal - Photo: Private
This Dior Handbag started the scandal - Photo: Private
South Korea's First Lady Missing Since December Following Dior Scandal.

Trending Now

In a development that has gripped the nation, South Korea's First Lady, Kim Kon Hi, has not been seen in public since mid-December.

Known for her active presence, often overshadowing her husband, President Yoon Suk Yeol, her sudden disappearance has sparked a flurry of speculation and concern. However, political commentators suggest her absence is likely due to a strategic withdrawal from the public eye, amidst a series of scandals deemed inappropriate ahead of the parliamentary elections in April.

Kim's last public appearance was reported about three months ago upon her return from the Netherlands with her husband. The presidential administration has remained silent on her whereabouts, her activities, and her health status. Her absence from the 2024 ceremony commemorating the March 1st Independence Movement demonstration, an event attended by every first lady since 1998, went without explanation, marking an unprecedented deviation from tradition.

Kim Kon Hi has been a contentious figure in South Korea. Unlike previous first ladies who remained in their husbands' shadows, Kim took an active role in President Yoon's campaign, vocally supported a historic law banning dog meat consumption, and showcased Korean fashion brands during her international visits.

She expressed a desire to become an ambassador for Korean culture and take full responsibility for the country's cultural diplomacy. Kim, twelve years younger than her husband, had established a career in exhibition organizing before their marriage. The couple has no children but shares their home with several cats and dogs, often featured in her interactions with the media. Her proactive stance and background have stirred controversy among the traditionally patriarchal electorate.

Kim faced scrutiny early in the public eye, including an apology for falsifying her resume to promote her exhibition company and allegations of plagiarism in academic work, which were ultimately dismissed but left some academics dissatisfied. Her mother was sentenced to prison for forging financial documents related to a land purchase. In 2023, the government canceled a high-speed rail project in Seoul amid opposition claims that it would benefit Kim's family through land price increases.

Kim's alleged off-the-record comments to a journalist, where she called her husband "a fool who can't do anything without me" and vowed to retaliate against media opposition, added to the controversy. Additionally, she was accused of being involved in manipulating the stock prices of Deutsch Motors, a BMW dealer in South Korea, over a decade ago. In December 2023, the opposition-controlled parliament appointed a special prosecutor to investigate these allegations, though President Yoon vetoed the decision.

A Dior Handbag Gift

The major scandal leading to Kim's disappearance, as theorized by many journalists, involves a Dior handbag gift.

A video surfaced showing a family friend, American pastor of Korean descent Chwe Jae Yeon, presenting Kim with a Lady Dior Pouch in sky blue. Kim's reaction and the subsequent leak of the video, recorded with a hidden camera in Chwe's watch, sparked widespread criticism.

The incident violated anti-corruption laws prohibiting politicians and their spouses from accepting gifts valued over $750; the handbag cost $2,200. The president's administration initially ignored the incident, later stating the bag was archived by the government. A January poll showed 70% of South Koreans demanding explanations from Yoon regarding the scandal, further exacerbated by Kim's absence from a Chinese New Year greeting video.

President Yoon addressed the scandal in a February interview, defending his wife's actions as a misunderstanding due to her personal history and expressing regret over her inability to handle the situation more coolly.

Former Justice Minister Han Donghun initially defended Kim, attributing the controversy to a leftist conspiracy, but later likened her to Marie Antoinette, drawing parallels to the French queen known for her lavish lifestyle and infamous for her detachment from the common people.

Supporters of Yoon and Kim accused Chwe and the opposition of attempting to undermine the first lady to influence the April parliamentary elections, highlighting the political divide between Yoon's hardline stance on North Korea and Chwe's advocacy for engagement with Pyongyang.

Kim's absence has seemingly improved President Yoon's approval ratings, with some attributing criticism of Kim to misogyny and political bias. However, legal professor Cho Hee Yeon argued that the scandal reflects broader issues with Kim's behavior and contrasts sharply with Yoon's image as a champion of justice and fairness. Recent polls suggest a slight rebound in Yoon's approval ratings, indicating the complex interplay of personal scandal and political perception in South Korea's public life.

Most Read