A senior North Korean diplomat who vanished in Italy in late 2018 is living in South Korea under government protection, according to legislators in Seoul. When Thae Yong Ho, then the North's No. 2 diplomat in the United Kingdom, defected in 2016, North Korea slammed Thae as a criminal and "human scum", while accusing the British and South Korean governments of using him as propaganda.
South Korea's spy agency had earlier told lawmakers that Jo left his official residence in Rome with his wife in November 2018 and was under protection at an unspecified location outside Italy.
South Korean media on Wednesday cited government sources in Seoul as saying Jo defected to South Korea in July past year. The National Intelligence Service, the South's spy agency, said it could not confirm Jo's defection or his presence in the South. Jeon said Jo didn't want his arrival to be publicized because of worries about relatives in North Korea, according to Jeon's office.
A top North Korean official has supposedly defected to the South as per a lawmaker in Seoul. We hope that we have succeeded by giving you the full details and information.
Jo was posted to Rome in 2015 and was appointed acting ambassador in October 2017, after Italy expelled his predecessor Mun Jong Nam to protest against a nuclear test by Pyongyang.
The NIS said it was checking reports about Mr Jo's arrival.
"Regarding the incident, North Korea expressed an apology and vowed to take steps to prevent recurrences, but it has not responded to our call for a joint investigation and made threats against our normal search operations under way in our waters", Wook said during a parliamentary audit of the ministry.
Thae is now a lawmaker under the South's conservative People Power Party. When its diplomats are posted overseas, North Korea requires them to leave some of their children in the North in order to discourage defections.
North Korea is trying to kick up a festive mood in the runup to this week's founding anniversary of the ruling Workers' Party in an apparent effort to strengthen internal unity despite economic difficulties and other challenges. On Thursday Jeon Hae-cheol, chairman of the National Assembly's intelligence committee, confirmed this was the case. He went to Seoul in 2016 and was elected to parliament this year.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered a nationwide drive to boost the ailing economy ahead of a key party congress in January, state media reported Tuesday.