Belgium recalls South Korea envoy after incident with wife

Belgium recalls envoy to South Korea after wife's shopping incident
2 min read
Belgian Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmes ordered Ambassador Peter Lescouhier to end his mission this summer as it "became clear that the current situation doesn’t allow him to further carry out his role".
Belgium's foreign minister has recalled her country's ambassador to Seoul following the shopping incident with his wife. [AFP/Getty]

Belgium Friday said it will recall its ambassador to South Korea after the envoy's wife was accused of assaulting two boutique staff in an incident that went viral.

Belgian Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmes ordered Ambassador Peter Lescouhier to end his mission this summer, a statement said, adding that that his spouse, Xiang Xueqiu, had met privately with the employees to apologise.

"Now that Mrs. Xiang Xueqiu has personally presented her excuses and cooperated with the police, Minister of Foreign Affairs Sophie Wilmes 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," the statement said.

It has "become clear that the current situation doesn’t allow him to further carry out his role in a serene way," the statement said.

The foreign ministry added that Belgium had waived Xiang's diplomatic immunity and that Belgian authorities "will of course continue to cooperate with the Korean authorities as needed."

This followed widespread public anger over the possible claim for diplomatic immunity, which protects diplomats and their families from criminal prosecution.

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

CCTV 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 initially 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.