Belgian envoy says wife will appear before police after slapping retail employees
Belgian Ambassador to Korea Peter Lescouhier notified Seoul’s Foreign Ministry Monday that his wife, who has been accused of assaulting two employees at a clothing store, will soon appear for police investigation.
Police have been investigating allegations that the ambassador’s wife slapped a clothing store manager in the face and hit another employee on the back of her head in Yongsan District, central Seoul, on April 9.
After news on the investigation broke earlier this month, the issue has drawn further public backlash both in Korea and in Belgium after CCTV footage of the incident and pictures of the victims were released to the press last week.
The CCTV footage revealed that the ambassador’s wife entered the shop around 2:30 p.m. and tried on various articles of clothing, even putting on a pair of pants over her clothes in the middle of the shop without removing her shoes. She left around an hour later without making any purchases.
One shop employee immediately chased after the customer to check if she had made any purchases. The employee later told media that the woman was wearing a blazer that had been a product sold at the shop and, after confirming that there had been no items shoplifted, immediately apologized to her and returned to the store.
The customer, however, returned to the shop minutes later to express her anger and began scolding the employee, grabbing her by her arm and smacking her on the back of her head, and demanding to speak with the person in charge. The customer proceeded to slap the manager who stepped in to defend the employee. The manager staggered from the impact and clutched her cheek.
A photo of the manager’s face later released to the press showed her left cheek to be red and inflamed and one eye bloodshot.
The manager reported the case to the police who later found out that the woman was the Belgian ambassador’s wife.
Yongsan police were unable get in contact with her right away. The embassy said that she had been hospitalized for an unspecified condition.
Under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, diplomats and their family members may be exempt from getting arrested, detained or indicted in a host country as they are subject to diplomatic immunity.
The manager, who has yet to receive an apology from the wife, eventually released the CCTV footage to media to prevent a similar situation of someone abusing their privileges from recurring.
The news gained further attention through coverage in foreign media and in Belgium. Seoul’s Foreign Ministry last Wednesday called on the Belgian Embassy to cooperate with the police investigation into the envoy’s wife.
The Belgian Embassy in Seoul initially would not comment on the issue.
However, the ambassador formally apologized for the incident on behalf of his wife in a press release last Thursday, also posted on the embassy's Facebook in English and Korean, 13 days after the incident.
“The Ambassador of Belgium sincerely regrets the incident involving his wife which happened on April 9th and wants to apologize on her behalf,” read the statement. “No matter the circumstances, the way she reacted is unacceptable.”
The statement said that the ambassador was informed by the police of the investigation on the day that his wife was hospitalized and said that he will not comment further on the investigation as it is still ongoing.
The embassy confirmed that the wife will go to police “once possible,” but added, “Unfortunately, she is unable to respond to the police invitation right now as she is under medical care following a stroke she suffered in the beginning of last week.”
It added, “We hope her health will improve quickly, so she will soon be able to assist with the police investigation, so we can all put this regrettable incident behind us.”
The apology was criticized by the public for coming too late and appearing insincere.
The Korean statement was translated in casual language, and the embassy account liked a comment that ridiculed Koreans, further infuriating the public. The comment has since been deleted.
On Monday, Lescouhier informed a Korean Foreign Ministry official that his wife, who had recently been released from hospitalization for her stroke, will respond to police investigations.
The official said that the ambassador personally made a phone call to the ministry and said that he will arrange a time with Korean police for his wife to undergo investigation.
The Foreign Ministry told the Belgian ambassador that his wife will need to apologize to the victims in person in order to resolve the case. The ambassador replied that he recognizes the need for an apology.
Police said Monday that they have yet to hear from the Belgian ambassador’s wife after summoning her last week.
Even if she complies with police investigations, it is unlikely that she can be punished unless she waives her diplomatic immunity.
This year marks the 120th anniversary of bilateral relations between Korea and Belgium. It is unclear whether this incident could have a negative impact on bilateral relations.
BY SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]