Former North Korean diplomat in Italy defects to south

Jo and his wife left North Korea's embassy compound in Rome just before his term as the acting ambassador ended [File: Giuseppe Lami/EPA]
North Korea’s embassy compound in Rome.

A former senior North Korean diplomat to Italy is currently in South Korea, having disappeared from Rome in late 2018, an opposition member of the National Assembly has revealed. Jo Song Gil, who was North Korea’s acting ambassador to Italy, disappeared with his wife after leaving the embassy without notice in early November 2018, and his whereabouts have been unclear since.

The two reportedly left just before Jo’s term as the acting ambassador in Rome ended, according to Ha Tae-keung of the opposition People Power Party, the diplomat entered South Korea in July last year and is “under the protection of authorities”. Sources later told the Yonhap news agency that Jo arrived in South Korea alongside his wife and that they travelled through a third country. Before the revelation of his defection, Jo was said to be seeking asylum in a third country under the protection of the Italian and other governments.

South Korea’s National Intelligence Service has refused to confirm the report, but if confirmed to be true, Jo would be one of the highest-ranking officials to settle in the south, Yonhap said.

In 2016, Thae Yong ho, a senior North Korean diplomat in London, defected to South Korea with his family.

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