SEOUL, An alleged insulting remark by a top North Korean official to chiefs of leading South Korean conglomerates has not been fully substantiated yet, the South's presidential office said Monday.

Ri Son-kwon, chairman of the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, has been under fire in the South after an opposition lawmaker alleged that he rebuked chaebol chiefs when they were having lunch together at Pyongyang's most famous cold noodle restaurant as part of September's third inter-Korean summit.

After one of the business tycoons ordered more cold noodles, Ri was quoted as saying, "Are the cold noodles gliding down your throat?" The alleged remark was an apparent expression of displeasure that inter-Korean economic cooperation is not going well and business chiefs should do more to invest in the North.

On Monday, Cheong Wa Dae suggested the alleged remark could have been taken out of context.

"At present, factual relations (of the remark) have not been revealed," presidential spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said. "A remark, if taken out of context, can be understood totally differently so that praise can be criticism and criticism can transform into praise."

Even if the alleged remark didn't conform to the etiquette and culture of the South, it is not considered serious enough to "harm the tremendous welcome that President Moon Jae-in received when he visited Pyongyang," Kim said.

Still, criticism of Ri rose further following additional revelations that he taunted Rep. Kim Tae-nyeon, chief policymaker of the ruling Democratic Party, about his pot belly during an Oct. 5 event in Pyongyang marking the 2007 inter-Korean summit.

"Those with protruding bellies should not be entrusted with a budget," Ri was quoted by participants as saying after a ruling party official introduced Kim to him and said Kim is the party's main official handling the government's budget.

Kim didn't take issue with the taunt, brushing it off as a meaningless drinking joke.

Source: Yonhap News Agency