Cambodian Embassy pays victim after call from MOFAT
Cambodian Ambassador to Korea Sim Ky Chan’s son, Bonita Chan, rear-ended the car of Seoul resident Hwang Seon-woo at 2:40 p.m. on Aug. 25 at the Geumho four-way intersection in Geumho-dong1ga, northern Seoul.
Four months later and after pressure from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT), the embassy compensated Hwang ― sort of.
The embassy did not directly compensate her, apologize or even contact her.
A self-described personal friend of the Cambodian ambassador, Kim Dong-myung, chief representative of the World Channel Sharing Foundation (WCSF), a nonprofit organization specializing in development issues in Cambodia, on Tuesday met Hwang to compensate her for her four-month ordeal.
Hwang, a 30-something cosmetologist, was renting a 2011 Kia Morning, called Picanto in the United States, while her car was being repaired at a local auto shop, when Bonita Chan rear-ended her car.
At the scene of the accident, the younger Chan and Shim Man-yong, a local staff person at the embassy, admitted fault in the accident and promised the embassy would pay all damages and related costs, but three days later, the embassy’s story changed, Hwang said.
In subsequent discussions, the embassy told Hwang that it would not compensate her, saying the embassy’s insurance company refused to cover the damage to her rental car.
Though the embassy was contacted repeatedly by email and phone, officials there declined to relate their side of the story.
The ambassador’s son left the country two days after the accident on Aug. 27, and Hwang was left footing the 1,400,000 won bill.
“I talked to Mr. Shim at the Cambodian Embassy who repeatedly told me they would take care of the damage to the car,” said Hwang, a part-time student and a local beauty shop operator in Seoul. “They lied to me.”
There is little Hwang, or anyone in the Korean government, can do about it, she later learned.
Under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, foreign diplomats and family assigned under their diplomatic status are protected from criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits in the host country.
Traffic accidents like this one play into an ongoing tug-of-war in recent years between foreign embassies and Korean officials over the extent and nature of diplomatic immunity.
According to Hong So-youn, 2nd secretary with the privileges and immunities team at MOFAT, the government has carried out a campaign calling on foreign envoys here to follow traffic laws, particularly “when the safety and property of our nationals is involved, as well as when the embassy concerned is not being cooperative.”
Hwang was eventually compensated by Kim. She said she was given 1,600,000 won on Dec. 27 as compensation by a representative of the NGO focused on Cambodia.
“I am a personal friend of the Cambodian ambassador and I helped him out,” Kim said. “I also helped out because he does not speak Korean.”
Hong said MOFAT has made it official policy since 2009 to work with the 2,800 foreign diplomats and their families from 118 countries to help them obey traffic and other laws and pay fines and damages if they occur.
The government has had success, too.
Since that policy was adopted, the number of embassies with extreme delinquency dropped three-fold from 46 to eight. Most impressive of all, perhaps: The number of unpaid fines decreased from 1,300 to 230.