Yoon Rejects South Korean Opposition's Calls For Special Investigation Of His Wife And Top Officials

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol attends a press conference marking his second year in office at the presidential office in Seoul, South Korea Thursday, May 9, 2024. (Song Kyung-seok/Pool Photo via AP)
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol attends a press conference marking his second year in office at the presidential office in Seoul, South Korea Thursday, May 9, 2024. (Song Kyung-seok/Pool Photo via AP)
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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea’s president on Thursday dismissed calls for independent investigations into allegations involving his wife and top officials, drawing quick, strong rebukes from his political rivals.

After his conservative ruling party suffered a heavy loss in the recent April 10 parliamentary elections, President Yoon Suk Yeol faces what appears to be his biggest political challenge yet as opposition parties would extend their control of the National Assembly to 2028.

The opposition has recently stepped up its demand for an independent investigation into first lady Kim Keon Hee over various scandals, such as her alleged involvement in a stock price manipulation scheme and the release of spy camera footage showing her receiving a luxury bag from a Korean American pastor.

In a news conference marking his two years in office, Yoon said he apologizes for what he calls “my wife’s unwise behavior” in accepting the Christian Dior bag but refused to elaborate because the scandal is under investigation by prosecutors.

Yoon described the demand for a new, special investigation on Kim’s shares price allegation as a political offensive, as Kim wasn’t charged or convicted from investigations that began when the Democratic Party was in power. Yoon already in January had vetoed a bill calling for the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate his wife’s stock price allegation.

During Thursday’s conference, Yoon also made it clear that he opposes another Democratic Party-led push for a special investigation into suspicions surrounding the death of a marine who drowned during a search for flood victims in 2023.

Yoon called the marine’s death heartbreaking, but stressed that police and an anti-corruption investigation agency have already been examining the case. Yoon said he would approve a new independent investigation if police and the anti-corruption investigation agency fail to address public suspicions over the case. Questions over why the marine was mobilized without safety gear and whether the government tried to prevent top officials from being held accountable have persisted.

Last week, the opposition-controlled parliament passed a bill calling for an independent investigation of the death, after ruling party members boycotted a floor vote in protest.

Later Thursday, the Democratic Party’s floor leader, Park Chan-dae, lambasted Yoon for rejecting its call for the special investigation of the marine’s death. “I can’t help questioning whether he sympathizes with the public indignant over the wrongful death of the marine at all,” Park said.

Party spokesperson Han Min-soo also said Yoon’s opposition to his wife’s new investigation proves she is “a sanctuary” in criminal investigations.

Despite the election defeat, Yoon’s major foreign policy agenda is likely to be unchanged as he does not need parliamentary endorsements. Yoon has made a bolstered military alliance with the U.S. the heart of his foreign policy, while pushing to expand trilateral Seoul-Washington-Tokyo cooperation to cope with North Korean nuclear threats and other challenges.

Yoon also Thursday criticized North Korea’s alleged arms exports to Russia to fuel its warfighting in Ukraine and maintained that Seoul will stick to its principle of providing only non-lethal support to Ukraine.

“We have a very clear policy that we do not provide lethal, offensive weapons to any side” in active conflict, Yoon said.

Since the start of the war, South Korea has sold artillery rounds to the United States, saying that the rounds were meant to backfill depleted U.S. stocks. The country also signed several arms deals with European powers eager to bolster their defenses in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“North Korea’s export of these weapons is not only an illicit activity to support the war in Ukraine, but also a clear violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions over the North Korean nuclear issue,” Yoon said. “So, we are taking necessary actions in coordination with the U.N. and international community.”