Wife of Belgian envoy to Seoul invokes immunity over assault

VIDEO: REUTERS

SEOUL (AFP) - The wife of Belgium's ambassador to South Korea will exercise her diplomatic immunity to avoid criminal charges on accusations she hit two boutique staff in the head in a row over shoplifting, the police said on Monday (May 17).

Ambassador Peter Lescouhier has previously said that he "sincerely regrets the incident involving his wife", adding that he "wants to apologise on her behalf".

The Belgium embassy "has expressed it would maintain the right of immunity for the ambassador's wife", said a detective at Yongsan police station in central Seoul, adding that the police would not pursue the case.

South Korea is a signatory to the Vienna Convention, which gives accredited diplomats and their families immunity from criminal prosecution.

Officers questioned the woman earlier this month after the embassy said she would cooperate with the police.

Reports say the envoy's wife tried on clothes in a Seoul store before walking out, prompting an assistant to run after her to ask about an item she was wearing and triggering the confrontation.

Closed-circuit television camera footage showed her pulling at one employee's arm and hitting her in the head, before slapping another worker who tried to intervene across the face.

The footage - provided by the family of an alleged victim - was widely reported by local media and circulated online, and turned public opinion sharply against the ambassador's family.

The Belgian embassy issued the ambassador's apology in a bilingual Facebook post as it sought to contain the damage, but its Korean translation sounded heavy-handed, further souring some reactions.

Public anger heightened in response to the use of diplomatic immunity, with more than 1,000 largely negative comments posted on one online report.

"I understand diplomats are given immunity but why are their families given such rights too?" asked one poster on Naver, the country's largest portal.