President Yoon Suk Yeol on Wednesday opened up about a scandal involving first lady Kim Keon Hee that has shaken up South Korean politics, about two months after a video of Kim receiving a purse by luxury brand Christian Dior worth 3 million won ($2,260) on a hidden camera was released.
"(The visitor who gifted the pouch) attached a hidden camera to a wristwatch, so we can say the scheme was deliberately arranged," Yoon said, referring to Korean-American pastor Choi Jae-young as the visitor who met and filmed Kim. "Also, (Voice of Seoul) made the video known to the public at a time when the general election is drawing near, a year after the issue happened, so we can see this as a political maneuver."
Yoon, however, admitted that his wife's action seen in the hidden camera was "regrettable."
"But it is not important whether it was political maneuvering. Rather, behaving properly is more important, so the line should be drawn clearly in order to prevent such incidents from happening again,” he said.
Yoon said the visitor had easy access to Kim because the video was filmed when Yoon and Kim were still living in their private apartment in Seocho-gu, Seoul before they moved to the new presidential residence in Yongsan-gu, Seoul and because the visitor brought up his relationship with Kim's father who passed away when Kim was young.
"From her standpoint, she would have found it hard to look coldly upon (the visitor) given the situation," Yoon said.
Yoon has been pressured to clarify his stance over the Dior bag scandal, as it has both roiled Korea internally and drawn international media attention over the last few months.
The scandal surfaced in November after secretly-recorded footage was released in a news report by left-leaning YouTube channel Voice of Seoul, showing pastor Choi gifting the luxury purse that a Voice of Seoul staff member had just purchased.
Choi had managed to meet Kim in person because Choi was a friend of Kim's father.
Under the anti-graft law in South Korea known as the Kim Young-ran Act, a public servant could face up to three years of imprisonment or a 30 million won fine if their spouse is caught receiving a gift worth over 1 million won, even when no favor was given or sought in return. The channel sued the first lady in December alleging she violated this law.
The footage also showed Kim having a phone call with an unidentified person, indicating she was apparently interfering in the process of promoting government officials. Choi, who advocates that Seoul engage with Pyongyang, claimed that he had seen Kim abusing her power as the first lady to meddle in state affairs.
The presidential office has insisted that the first lady has fallen victim to a "carefully orchestrated ploy" to film her without consent illegally.
Han Dong-hoon, interim leader of the ruling People Power Party, described the outlet's move Wednesday as "a low hidden camera trick" in a meeting with the Kwanhun Club of senior journalists, adding the video "sparked the public's concerns" about the first lady's security.
The Dior bag scandal is the latest allegation of criminal activity against the first lady.
In January, a bill passed by the opposition bloc demanding a special counsel investigation into the first lady's alleged involvement in stock manipulation dating back a decade was vetoed by Yoon. The bill is now pending at the National Assembly for a revote.
Amid the series of allegations, the first lady has stayed out of the public eye. Kim was last seen publicly on Dec. 15, when Yoon and his wife returned from their trip to the Netherlands.