Belgian ambassador’s wife accused of hitting shop workers in Seoul

Belgian embassy in South Korea says diplomat will be brought home amid controversy

The incident in Seoul drew widespread anger, prompting thousands of people to sign petitions on South Korea’s presidential website. Photograph: iStock

The incident in Seoul drew widespread anger, prompting thousands of people to sign petitions on South Korea’s presidential website. Photograph: iStock

 

Belgium will bring home its ambassador to South Korea amid public anger over his wife’s alleged assault of two employees at a shop in Seoul.

The Belgium embassy said the country’s minister for foreign affairs Sophie Wilmes decided it was in the best interests of bilateral relations to end ambassador Peter Lescouhier’s’s tenure this summer.

He has been the envoy in Seoul for three years.

The embassy did not provide a specific date for when Mr Lescouhier’s term will end or name a replacement.

While Mr Lescouhier served his country with dedication, “the current situation doesn’t allow him to further carry out his role in a serene way”, the embassy said.

The Belgian government also waived the diplomatic immunity of Mr Lescouhier’s wife, Xiang Xueqiu, so that she could be investigated by South Korean police, the embassy said in a Facebook post.

However, South Korea’s foreign ministry said her immunity was only partially waived and she still had protection from criminal trials or punishment.

Mr Lescouhier earlier this month issued an apology on behalf of his wife, saying in an Instagram video that she “might have had her reasons to be angry at the way she was treated in that shop but committing physical violence is totally unacceptable”.

The embassy said Ms Xiang has met privately with the two shop employees and apologised.

According to South Korean media, Ms Xiang reacted angrily when a shop employee asked about the jacket she was wearing, suspecting that it could have been stolen.

Security camera video showed her shoving and slapping an employee in the face and hitting another on the head.

The incident drew widespread anger, prompting thousands of people to sign petitions on South Korea’s presidential website calling for Ms Xiang to be expelled from the country.

South Korea is a signatory to the Vienna Convention, which grants diplomats and their families protection against criminal prosecution, although the immunity can be voluntarily waived. -- PA