SEOUL — The shop assistant followed the ambassador’s wife out of a Seoul clothing store, stopped her in the street and checked the label of her jacket to make sure it had not been shoplifted.
The customer, Xiang Xueqiu, returned to the store in a rage, slapping the assistant on the back of the head and another in the face. She had not stolen anything, but the attack was captured by surveillance footage and led to a police investigation.
The incident turned into a slow-burning diplomatic flap with weeks of embarrassing headlines. Now the Belgian embassy in Seoul has said it will recall Ms. Xiang’s husband, Ambassador Peter Lescouhier, “in the best interest of our bilateral relations. Mr. Lescouhier is scheduled to leave his post sometime this summer. The bilateral trading relationship between Belgium and South Korea was worth more than four billion euros, or nearly $5 billion, last year.
Mr. Lescouhier served with “dedication” in South Korea for three years, the embassy said in a statement on its Facebook page last week. “It has however become clear that the current situation doesn’t allow him to further carry out his role in a serene way.”
A slap in the face will do that.
According to the Facebook post, the embassy waived Ms. Xiang’s diplomatic immunity in the case at the request of the South Korean police. But it remains unclear whether she will face charges or if local prosecutors will bring them.
In a statement on Tuesday, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that Ms. Xiang had agreed to cooperate with the investigation, and left open the possibility of a criminal trial or punishment.
An officer at the Yongsan Police Station in Seoul, which is handling the case, said on Tuesday that the station had not received “anything official” from the Belgian embassy regarding Ms. Xiang’s diplomatic immunity. (The officer requested anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.)
The embassy did not respond to emailed questions seeking comment.
The saga first gripped the South Korean public in April, after surveillance footage captured Ms. Xiang slapping the two shop assistants at the store in central Seoul. South Korean news media reported that an assistant followed Ms. Xiang out of the store and checked the tag in her jacket because the store sold the same item.
Nearly two weeks after the incident, the Belgian embassy said in a statement that Ms. Xiang had been hospitalized after suffering a stroke. It said she would cooperate with police investigators and apologize in person at the store as soon as she recovered.
“The Ambassador of Belgium sincerely regrets the incident involving his wife,” the statement read, offering an apology. “No matter the circumstances, the way she reacted is unacceptable.”
Many South Koreans were unmoved by the apology and said they were offended it had not been delivered in person to the victims. The uproar on social media was so intense that Julian Quintart, a DJ from Belgium who lives in Seoul and is a popular television personality in South Korea, issued his own apology to the shop assistants and their families.
“Violence should never be the answer,” he wrote on Instagram in April, “and even more coming from someone married to a diplomat.”
Youmi Kim reported from Seoul and Mike Ives from Hong Kong.