S. Korea police want to probe US diplomat over car accident

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean police said Thursday they’re pushing to investigate a U.S. diplomat to find if he intentionally fled following a traffic accident in Seoul.

The diplomat’s car rear-ended a taxi in Seoul on Wednesday but kept moving without stopping, the Seoul Yongsan Police Station said, citing an analysis of footage recorded by the taxi’s camera.

The taxi chased the diplomat’s car until it stopped close to the gate of a nearby U.S. military base in Seoul. Police officers dispatched to the site tried to identify the diplomat, but he refused to comply with any inquiry, police officers said, requesting anonymity because of department rules.

His car later moved into the U.S. base, where the residences of some of the U.S. diplomats based in Seoul are located, the police officers said.

Police said the taxi driver and a passenger didn’t immediately report injuries. Police said they don’t know if anyone aboard the U.S. diplomat’s car was hurt.

On Thursday, police sent official letters to the U.S. Embassy in Seoul and South Korea’s Foreign Ministry to ask for cooperation in their investigation and check if the diplomat would exercise his immunity. The Foreign Ministry later told police that there were four U.S. diplomats in the car, including the driver, and they all belong to the embassy, according to police.

If the driver was aware of the collision and deliberately fled, his behavior constitutes a criminal offense. Even if he failed to recognize the accident and didn’t flee intentionally, he still has to pay repair costs for the taxi’s damaged bumper, according to police.

The U.S. Embassy in a statement disputed the account of the accident reported in the press, without elaborating which parts of the media reports it refers to.

“We trust that the competent (South Korean) law enforcement authorities will conduct a thorough and fair investigation of the matter, and we will refrain for providing further comment until that investigation has been completed,” it said.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday that it was consulting with authorities. Spokesman Choi Young-sam said South Korea has been sternly dealing with crimes committed by foreign diplomats in Seoul.

South Korea is a signatory to the Vienna Convention, which grants diplomats and their families protection against criminal prosecution, although the immunity can be voluntarily waived. Earlier this year, the Foreign Ministry said there had been no cases in the past five years of foreign diplomats being prosecuted after waiving immunity.

The United States is South Korea’s chief security ally. About 28,500 U.S. troops are deployed in South Korea as deterrence against potential aggression from North Korea.

Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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