The President's Drinking Buddies

Yoon Suk-yeol's infamous drinking habits lead to cancelled meetings and opaque lobbying.

Video: a contentious moment between Justice Minister Han Dong-hun and Assembly Member Kim Eui-gyeom.  Credit: SBS News.

One of the most contentious moments of the annual legislative audit 국정감사 was the October 24 session for the Ministry of Justice 법무부. During the session, Democratic Party lawmaker Kim Eui-gyeom 김의겸 played a recording of two whistleblowers who said that Justice Minister Han Dong-hun 한동훈 법무부장관 attended a late-night drinking session in Seoul’s fancy Cheongdam-dong 청담동 area with President Yoon Suk-yeol 윤석열 대통령 and approximately 30 attorneys from the prestigious law firm Kim & Chang 김&장 법률사무소 on July 19. Kim said the drinking session continued past 3 a.m., with Yoon and Han singing songs and chanting with the attorneys. “We are one! 우리는 하나다!”

Han angrily denied the contents of the recording: “You’re sure? You’re sure enough to insult the Justice Minister of the Republic of Korea? . . . I’ll bet everything. I’ll bet my Justice Minister post, any public office, anything. What will you bet, Assembly Member?” Yoon also later denied the drinking session, calling it “lowbrow and juvenile fake news.” Kim, responding to Han, said: “Minister Han turned the legislative audit session into a gambling house by abruptly offering to bet his position.  . . .  I don’t intend to get involved in threats more befitting for back alley thugs.”

Although Yoon might dispute this particular session, it is an open secret that Yoon likes his drinks. In the last days of the presidential campaign in March, Yoon’s campaign managers ordered Yoon to stop drinking; Yoon defied them by smuggling bottles of wine into his hotel room. Even after he was elected president, his security staff were frequently seen outside of bars near his Seocho-dong 서초동 residence. That much is not a problem; the problem is when Yoon’s drinking habits interfere with his work.

Previously on July 20, the day after Kim Eui-gyeom’s allegation of the 3 a.m. drinking session, Yoon abruptly canceled the briefing he was supposed to report from the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family 여성가족부, causing confusion from the beleaguered ministry. Out of the 135 new judges appointed earlier this month, 19 were from Kim & Chang, inviting criticism that Yoon’s drinking sessions may be used as a shadowy avenue for lobbying.

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