Pastor alleges Korea’s first lady accepted gift of Chanel cosmetics, had secretary open them

Posted on : 2024-06-03 17:48 KST Modified on : 2024-06-03 17:48 KST
Prosecutors acquired a memo by Choi in which he said he outlined a meeting with Kim Keon-hee in June 2022 where he gave her gifts including Chanel cosmetics
First lady Kim Keon-hee accompanies Cambodian first lady Pich Chanmony to the presidential office in Seoul on May 16, 2024. (courtesy of the presidential office)
First lady Kim Keon-hee accompanies Cambodian first lady Pich Chanmony to the presidential office in Seoul on May 16, 2024. (courtesy of the presidential office)

As part of their investigation of first lady Kim Keon-hee’s acceptance of a luxury handbag, prosecutors were confirmed to also be looking into an initial meeting with Choi Jae-young, the pastor who gave her the bag, where he claimed to have given her luxury cosmetics.

The prosecutors acquired notes made by Choi after the encounter as well.

According to the Hankyoreh’s investigation on Sunday, the first criminal division of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office summoned Choi on Friday to ask about the circumstances of his first meeting with Kim Keon-hee on June 20, 2022.

On that date, which was three months prior to the handbag being given, Choi claimed to have given Kim 1.8 million won (US$1,300) worth of gifts including Chanel cosmetics and perfume. Unlike the case with the handbag, no audio or video recordings exist for this alleged gift.

But Choi did hand a six-page document over to the Voice of Seoul online news outlet for the purpose of a related broadcast. Based on the content of this document, the prosecutors asked Choi about his reasons for meeting with Kim and what they talked about — showing that they are looking into the entire process of Choi and Kim’s encounter.

The Hankyoreh acquired a copy of the six-page document acquired by prosecutors under the title “Summary of Conversations between First Lady Kim Keon-hee and Rev. Choi Jae-young (Conversation Notes Following Meeting on June 20, 2022).” The document in question includes the date and time of Choi’s meeting with Kim, the other parties present, the purpose and procedure of the meeting, and major topics of conversation.

Two other parties were listed as having been present, respectively identified by the surnames Yu and Jeong.

The two presidential office employees formerly worked at Covana Contents and were at the center of controversy over Kim’s accompaniment by personal acquaintances during a visit to Bongha Village on June 13, 2022.
 
In the document, Choi revealed that the cosmetics gifted to Kim were opened on the spot. “When I delivered the cosmetics to Kim, she called her secretary, Jeong, who was working at a desk behind her, and instructed her to tear the wrapper,” Choi wrote. “Kim herself touched the items, checked them, and said, ‘You didn’t have to come with gifts. Korean and Asian women don’t often buy Chanel, so how did you know to choose this?’”
 
The presidential office had previously said that the Dior handbag was kept as a presidential record, but the Chanel cosmetics were, allegedly, removed from their packaging.

Choi wrote in the document that on that day, he spoke with Kim about the establishment of an office of the first lady, the reunification of the two Koreas, North Korean human rights issues, and various individuals such as Cho Kuk, Rhyu Si-min and Tak Hyun-min.


 

Choi Jae-young, the pastor who recorded himself giving Kim Keong-hee a luxury handbag, responds to questions from reporters as he heads into the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office on May 31, 2024. (Yonhap)
Choi Jae-young, the pastor who recorded himself giving Kim Keong-hee a luxury handbag, responds to questions from reporters as he heads into the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office on May 31, 2024. (Yonhap)


When it came to the establishment of an office of the first lady, Cho wrote that Kim stated, “We don’t need an office like that. It’ll make everything complicated.” Regarding the prosecutorial investigation of Cho Kuk, the leader of the Rebuilding Korea Party, during his time as justice minister, Choi wrote, “President Moon is very indecisive. The investigation by the prosecution took place because he couldn’t fire Cho, as Cho has such a firm grip over the president.”
 
The document also included statements such as, “Yoon only did his duty and was loyal to then-President Moon, as Moon was unable to get rid of Cho. Yoon was as loyal as he could be to Moon and acted as a shield.” However, there are no recordings or other pieces of evidence to show that Kim made these statements herself.
 
In the document, Choi also wrote that the purpose of his meeting with Kim was “to advise the Yoon government, which had been in office for a month, on general national affairs and North Korea policy,” and that the gift was “a personal gift between himself and Kim, and not for bribery or solicitation.”

By Jeong Hye-min, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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