the “Marie-Antoinette” who shakes power – L’Express

the Marie Antoinette who shakes power – LExpress

The South Korean president is in turmoil, two months before crucial legislative elections. A sign of the scale of the crisis, the conservative leader gave up a state visit to Germany in mid-February, even though it is his number one trading partner in Europe. Yoon Suk-yeol must indeed face an avalanche of internal problems as the election approaches: popularity rating at half-mast at 29%, economic slowdown, strong tensions with an increasingly threatening North Korea…

But the most embarrassing subject is the scandal surrounding his wife, the very divisive Kim Keon-hee, since the broadcast in December of a video where we see her accepting a branded gift: a $2,200 Dior bag. The presidential entourage initially denounced a set-up intended to trap the first lady at a key political moment: the interview filmed on a hidden camera was in fact organized in September 2022 by a pastor, Choi Jae-young, close from the far left. But the president had to publicly acknowledge his wife’s lack of discernment.

READ ALSO: North Korea: signs of a very real nuclear threat

This was not enough to dispel the unease, which weakened the executive, forcing the leader of the People’s Power Party (PPP, in power) to resign. Although close to the president, his interim replacement recognized that there was reason to “worry” the population in the Dior bag affair. In fact, 53% of South Koreans see it as an act of corruption, especially since this present was not the first. One of the PPP leaders, Kim Kyung-yul, went further, comparing the first lady to Queen Marie Antoinette. “Why did the French Revolution start? It was because of the revelations about Marie-Antoinette’s taste for luxury and unbridled life,” he asserted.

Associated with multiple cases

Enough to further tarnish the reputation of an already very controversial character, targeted by multiple investigations for financial embezzlement. An arts graduate and manager of a company organizing exhibitions, this fifty-year-old with the artificial face of an ageless doll is suspected of having embellished her CV to obtain positions at university. She was also the subject of persistent – ​​and unfounded – rumors about call girl activities when she was a student.

READ ALSO: War in Ukraine: why Seoul continues to spare Moscow

The first lady also remains associated with multiple cases: her mother was sentenced in November 2023 to one year in prison for having provided false banking documents in order to buy real estate in the south of Seoul in 2013. And the two women are accused of having manipulated between 2010 and 2012 the share price of the local distributor of the German manufacturer BMW – by circulating information with the complicity of the largest shareholder, in order to raise or lower the value of the stock.

She called her husband “an idiot”

Kim Keon-hee is all the more divisive as her independent nature shocks part of the country, still dominated by a strong patriarchy, and where first ladies are historically confined to a purely representative role. The choice to move the South Korean presidency from the Blue House – a traditional style palace with blue tiles – to the premises of the Ministry of Defense, would be linked to a consultation of shamans, which she frequents assiduously. She is also said to have influenced government appointments. Kim Seung-hee, a university friend involved in Yoon’s presidential campaign team, was promoted last year to secretary of presidential protocol, a position usually reserved for a diplomat. Obviously eager to play an active role, she called her husband an “idiot” who “can’t do anything without [elle]”, in a conversation with a journalist recorded without his knowledge.

The first lady, who loves dogs, also played a role in the vote in early January for a law banning the consumption of meat from these animals, although it is traditional in Korea. The problem is the lack of control of the first lady within the presidency,” analyzes political commentator Lee Jong-hoon. Upon coming to power, President Yoon, citing the need to reduce the costs linked to his office, had thought he was doing the right thing by abolishing the service which supervised the activities of the first lady and tried to limit slippages. The current crisis has reached such a level that Yoon would not rule out recreating it.