North Korea’s top diplomat in Italy has applied for asylum and gone into hiding, Seoul lawmakers told reporters after a closed-door meeting with South Korean intelligence officials.
It would mark the latest high-profile defection by a senior North Korean envoy since the deputy ambassador in London in 2016.
“Acting ambassador Jo Song Gil’s term was ending in late November last year and he escaped the diplomatic compound in early November” with his wife, lawmaker Kim Min-ki told reporters.
Jo Song-gil (48), has been acting ambassador in Rome since October 2017 after Italy expelled the then ambassador Mun Jong Nam in protest at a North Korean nuclear test a month earlier in violation of UN resolutions.
Italy is an important diplomatic mission for Pyongyang, as it handles relations with the Rome-headquartered UN Food and Agriculture Organization and North Korea suffers from chronic food shortages.
A North Korean diplomat in Italy said to be seeking asylum is from a “prestigious diplomatic family” with both his father and father-in-law having worked in Pyongyang‘s foreign ministry, Agency France press reports.