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(LEAD) Belgium recalls ambassador to Seoul, waives immunity for wife over assault case

All News 20:08 May 28, 2021

(ATTN: RECASTS paras 8-9 with more details, comments from Seoul foreign ministry; ADDS byline)

By Kim Seung-yeon

SEOUL, May 28 (Yonhap) -- Belgium ordered its ambassador to South Korea to leave his post this summer and waived diplomatic immunity for his wife, who stands accused of assaulting two clothing shop employees, its foreign ministry said Friday.

Xiang Xueqiu, the spouse of Ambassador Peter Lescouhier, has been questioned by police here over allegations that she slapped a clothing store employee in the face and another staff in the back of her head in early April.

The assaults allegedly happened when the employees mistakenly suspected the wife of having stolen clothes from the store, because she was wearing an outfit similar to what they were selling.

"To this end, her diplomatic immunity was waived by the (Federal Public Service) Foreign Affairs, based on the request of the police," the ministry said in a statement. The Belgian Embassy in Seoul posted the message on its Facebook account.

It became clear that the current situation does not allow the ambassador to continue to carry out his role "in a serene way," the statement said.

"Minister of Foreign Affairs Sophie Wilmès has decided that it is in the best interest of our bilateral relations to end Ambassador Lescouhier's tenure in the Republic of Korea this summer," it added.

Lescouhier took office as ambassador to Seoul in June 2018.

About whether the renouncing of diplomatic immunity meant the wife could face criminal proceedings in Korea, Seoul's foreign ministry said that the Belgian side has informed the ministry that the immunity was "partially" waived, to the extent of complying with the police questioning here that she went through early this month.

"We understand that the immunity does not include the steps that follow the police investigation, such as trial and punishment," the ministry said.

Lescouhier has apologized over the incident on his wife's behalf and vowed full cooperation with police investigation. But both the couple and the embassy have faced public criticism over what many saw as a lack of sincerity in addressing the matter.

The apology, issued in a Facebook post, stirred angry comments as the ambassador and his wife did not apologize in person, and also because the language used in the apology appeared improper for a formal statement from a foreign government official expressing regret.

The ministry's statement said that the wife has met privately with the two store employees to apologize in person. It is regrettable that it could not take place sooner because of her hospitalization, it added.

"Belgium will continue to cooperate with the Korean authorities," the ministry said.

Noting that this year marks the 120th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between South Korea and Belgium, the Belgian government hopes to build the bilateral ties stronger, it said.

This blurred surveillance footage, obtained by Yonhap News TV from the victim's family on April 20, 2021, shows the scene of an incident in which the wife of Belgian Ambassador Peter Lescouhier allegedly assaulted two employees at a local clothing store. (Yonhap)

elly@yna.co.kr

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