Candidate Lee apologizes for wife's use of civil servants
Ruling Democratic Party (DP) presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung apologized Thursday for a controversy over civil servants running personal errands for his wife, Kim Hye-kyung, when he was Gyeonggi governor.
Kim also apologized Wednesday in her first public response to allegations that Gyeonggi Provincial Government officials ran personal errands such as picking up prescription medicine and delivering food. She also apologized for using a corporate credit card billing the provincial government for her private expenses.
Broadcaster SBS reported on Jan. 28 that a senior Gyeonggi government official in the general affairs division surnamed Bae instructed a secretary in the secretariat to pick up 28 days worth of prescription medicine allegedly for Kim last spring. The secretary delivered the medicine to Kim's private residence in Sunae-dong, Bundang, in Gyeonggi and left it in front of the door, checking in with Bae during the process.
The prescription medicine was under another secretary's name.
The former Gyeonggi government secretary shared with SBS Telegram messaging app texts and photos of Bae discussing errands for Kim, which also included meal deliveries. He claimed to have spent "90 percent of the time" running petty errands related to Kim.
The secretary, a Level 7 civil servant in a nine-tier system, also reportedly helped Lee's son with hospital discharge procedures in June 2021 on the instruction of Bae. Another report said he helped with the governor's laundry.
Bae, a Level 5 civil servant, reportedly worked for former Gyeonggi Gov. Lee from 2010 to 2018 when he was mayor of Seongnam.
KBS further reported Wednesday that the secretary used a Gyeonggi government secretariat corporate credit card to pay for Kim's personal food expenses. The secretary reportedly paid for beef at a restaurant with a personal credit card in April and canceled the transaction the next day to pay with a corporate card. The report alleged there were some 10 cases where the corporate card was apparently used for personal expenses over a period of nine months last year, according to phone recordings made by the secretary.
In an April 13 phone conversation, the secretary appears to protest Bae's instructions to use the corporate card, and Bae tries to convince him that it's not problematic.
Since 2016, the government has prohibited a spouse of a local government head from receiving support from civil servants for personal activities. Likewise, corporate cards are not supposed to be used for personal expenses.
Bae initially claimed that she had had never handled personal affairs for Lee's family. She also claimed that the prescription medicine had been for her own use.
However on Wednesday, Bae said she had requested the secretary to "do things nobody had requested" and said she is to blame for the whole controversy. She apologized to Lee and the public, saying she had been trying to "impress" the governor and his wife, and went against "common sense."
Kim said in a statement later Wednesday, "I should have clearly separated public and private matters," apologizing for causing concern to the public and saying, "everything is my fault."
She admitted she had been acquainted with Bae and had gotten help from her but denied she had received regular assistance.
Responding to the various reports, Lee said in a statement Thursday, "I apologize for any concern" related to allegations about his time as Gyeonggi governor.
"As a governor, I was not able to carefully examine whether there were any unfair actions by staffers, and my spouse also was not able to detect and prevent problems in advance," said Lee.
He encouraged an audit into allegations that a corporate card was used inappropriately and said, "If any problem is revealed, I will take responsibility according to the regulations."
Lee added, "Through this opportunity, I will think and act more carefully, along with my family and those around me."
The main opposition People Power Party (PPP) on Thursday established a "fact-finding center" within its election campaign youth headquarters to investigate the allegations against Kim.
Kwon Young-se, the PPP's secretary-general, accused Kim of using a public official "like a personal valet," and called for a "Kim Hye-kyung prevention bill" to eradicate abuse of power in the workplace and using public officials for private matters.
The PPP filed a complaint with the Supreme Prosecutors' Office on the same day against Kim, Lee and Bae, accusing them of abuse of power and violating the medical law by getting a prescription under another person's name.
The PPP's presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol has also faced controversy about his wife's falsified job resume and alleged involvement in shamanism. Recordings of phone calls between his wife, Kim Keon-hee, and a liberal journalist disclosed last month suggested she may have tried to meddle in her husband's election campaign.
Lee's apology for his wife came ahead of a televised debate between four presidential candidates scheduled for Thursday at 8 p.m. Lee, Yoon, the People's Party's Ahn Cheol-soo and Justice Party's Sim Sang-jung were expected to discuss real estate policy and foreign affairs and security.
Allegations against family members of the candidates were also expected to be raised during the debate.
BY SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]