Blue House expresses regret over first lady's clothing controversy
Park Soo-hyun, presidential senior secretary for public communication, said in a press briefing, "We express regret at the indiscriminate allegations raised over not just Blue House special activity expenses at the end of term, but the cost of first lady Kim Jung-sook's clothes and accessories."
Some people online have accused Kim of using state coffers to finance the cost of her clothes, shoes, jewelry and accessories for public events. They have compiled numerous images of what appears to be expensive or rare luxury pieces worn by the first lady over the years.
Civic groups and the main opposition People Power Party (PPP) lawmakers have also demanded that the Blue House disclose any special activity expenses used for Kim's clothes.
Special activity expenses are costs incurred for performing state affairs allotted to the Blue House, Ministry of Justice, National Intelligence Service, prosecution and other major government agencies that require confidentiality according to law.
As the controversy brewed, the Blue House shot down allegations that Kim used state funds, including special activity expenses, for the purpose of purchasing clothes Tuesday, saying the first lady always used her own money.
It added that sponsored outfits worn by the first lady during international events and summits were either donated or returned to brands by Kim.
Presidential secretary Park said Thursday that the Moon administration spent an annual average of 9.65 billion won ($7.9 million) for Blue House special activity expenses, which marked the lowest amount since the presidential office first introduced special activities expenses in 1994.
The Kim Young-sam government spent 9.7 billion won in Blue House special activities expenses annually, the Kim Dae-jung government spent 10.1 billion won, the Roh Moo-hyun government 10.7 billion won, the Lee Myung-bak government 13 billion won and the Park Geun-hye government 14.1 billion won, according to Blue House data.
Addressing the concerns over spending, Park Soo-hyun said that with the launch of the Moon administration, the government has worked to "continuously improve the system in order to maintain transparency and accountability and meet the expectations of the public and to use the special activity expenses only when necessary for their given purposes."
Park pointed out that in 2017, 70.4 percent, or 8.8 billion won of the total of 12.5 billion won budget allotted for special activity expenses, was spent by the Blue House, and the rest was returned to the national treasury.
He said that following the Blue House trend, other government agencies also reduced their spending on special activity expenses.
Over the past five years, total special activity expenses were reduced by 40.2 percent from 400.7 billion in 2017 to 239.6 billion in 2022, according to Park.
The special activity expenses of the Blue House are inspected by the Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) every year, a measure introduced under the Moon government.
Park said, "The Moon Jae-in administration has not received a single complaint from the BAI regarding the execution of the Blue House special activity expenses."
In June 2018, the Korea Taxpayers' Association, a local civic group, filed a request with the Blue House to disclose data on how much it spent on the first lady's wardrobe and for special intelligence-related purposes.
The Blue House has refused to share the off-the-record expenses, citing "national security issues." The association later filed a lawsuit against the Blue House.
In early February, the Seoul Administrative Court ruled partly in favor of the association, saying that some of the expenditure information requested by the group should be disclosed by the Blue House. The Blue House appealed the decision at the beginning of March.
Last Friday, another civic group filed a complaint with the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency that accused Kim of embezzlement and violating a law that deals with national economic ethics.
The police agency on Wednesday launched an investigation into the case, assigning it to its anticorruption and public crime investigation division.
Rep. Kang Min-kuk, a spokesman of the PPP, said Wednesday, "The Blue House explained that President Moon Jae-in's wife, Kim Jung-sook, paid for all the clothes with her own money, but refuses to disclose the details of the special activity expenses until the end."
Kang asked, "Why are the prices of the first lady's clothes a state secret?"
Tak Hyun-min, Blue House protocol secretary, said in a CBS radio interview Wednesday, "It's an absurd speculation that the cost of clothes are thought to be included in ceremonial expenses."
He said on the wardrobe controversy, "The government has never paid for clothes or any private expenses."
Noting that the issue was also a problem in the previous administration, Tak continued, "From the very start of this administration, we have been on the same page in regards to issues like special activity expenses, and have not made any private transactions, like buying clothes, with government funds."
BY SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]