US soldier-jurisdiction

SEOUL, April 4 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's Justice Ministry said Thursday that it has sent a request to the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) to relinquish jurisdiction over one of its soldiers allegedly involved in a BB gun shooting incident in downtown Seoul last month.

The 26-year-old staff sergeant, surnamed Lopez, is accused of shooting the BB gun at pedestrians and leading police on a high-speed car chase in the crowded multicultural Itaewon district in Seoul on March 2, leaving one South Korean police officer injured.

As part of legal procedures to try Lopez in the country, a Seoul court on Wednesday issued a warrant to place him in pre-trial detention. After receiving the detention warrant, the ministry sent the request to the USFK to turn over Lopez, who currently remains under U.S. custody.

It marks the first time for South Korea to ask the USFK to turn over the jurisdiction of a U.S. soldier implicated in a general crime, in accordance with a relevant clause in the Status-of-Forces Agreement (SOFA) that governs the legal status of the 28,500 U.S. soldiers stationed in South Korea.

The so-called "sympathetic consideration" clause under the SOFA requires the USFK and South Korea to give "sympathetic consideration" to each other's requests for a waiver of jurisdiction. The USFK, however, is under no legal obligation to hand over its soldiers.

The USFK previously handed over suspects in 12 serious crimes, such as murder and rape, and in other specific cases by giving "sympathetic consideration."

If the USFK agrees to waive the jurisdiction of Lopez, he will be detained up to 30 days for investigation. However, if the USKF refuses, Lopez will undergo trials without physical detention and will be detained only if the court convicts him.

Lopez allegedly shot the BB gun in the crowded Itaewon district and then fled in a car, along with two other service members -- a 23-year-old private first class and a 22-year-old female specialist -- with the police following in pursuit, police officers said.

After questioning the three U.S. personnel and analyzing CCTV video footage, and receiving testimonies from witnesses, police decided to seek to detain Lopez, judging that he played a leading role in the incident.

Lopez was specifically charged with obstructing police from carrying out their duties and breaching traffic and other laws, they added.

The high-profile incident spurred public outcry over lenient punishment of American soldiers based in the nation, and even rekindled calls for revising the SOFA.

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