A North Korean diplomat who disappeared in Italy has deserted and lives in South Korea, says a lawmaker.
Jo Song-gil, North Korea̵
If confirmed, Mr. Jo would be the oldest defector since 1997.
However, there is concern for his teenage daughter, who is said to have returned to the North.
Italy’s foreign ministry says she was repatriated to the north in February 2019 at her request after her parents went missing.
How did Jo Song-gil defect?
He disappeared with his wife after leaving the embassy unannounced in November 2018, shortly before his term as North Korea’s interim ambassador to Italy expired.
Reports at the time said the diplomat – the son and son-in-law of senior North Korean officials – was seeking asylum under the protection of Western governments.
A South Korean opposition MP said on Facebook Tuesday that Mr. Jo was in the south with his wife and living under protection. Jeon Hae-cheol, chairman of the National Assembly’s intelligence committee, confirmed on Thursday that this is so.
“Former interim ambassador Jo came to South Korea voluntarily in July 2019,” Jeon said, adding, “He had repeatedly expressed his desire to come to South Korea.”
The country’s intelligence agencies have not yet commented.
What about your daughter?
Little is known about her other than that she is a teenager.
Mr. Jeon said Mr. Jo wanted his location to be kept secret. “He was worried about his family staying in North Korea,” Jeon said, in quotation marks from the Yonhap news agency.
Another former North Korean diplomat, Thae Yong-ho – Pyongyang’s former deputy ambassador to the UK who defected to South Korea in 2016 and is now a lawmaker there – said a defector’s relatives could be punished.
- My friend, the North Korean defector
- Kim Yo-jong: the heir of North Korea?
“Where a deserted diplomat lives determines the levels of treatment or punishment to be given to his relatives who remain in the North.
“If he takes asylum in South Korea, he is called a traitor, an apostate,” Thae said, adding, “And no one knows what penalties would be imposed on a traitor’s family.”
Another opposition lawmaker, Cho Tae-yong, who is also a former Deputy National Security Advisor, accused the government of leaking information about Mr. Jo and described him as an “act that completely lacked humanitarian considerations in the against his daughter “.
However, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said she was “surprised” at the news of Mr. Jo’s whereabouts and shared concerns about his daughter.
North Korean diplomats stationed overseas often have to leave several family members in Pyongyang, a move that should prevent them from defecting.