Seoul, Oct 7 (efe-epa).- A South Korean parliamentary committee said Wednesday that the former North Korean ambassador to Italy, who mysteriously disappeared in 2018, has been living in the South since last year.
The chairman of the parliamentary intelligence committee, Jeon Hae-cheol, told media that former diplomat Jo Song-il “came to South Korea voluntarily in July 2019” and has been living in the country since then, according to statements made to Yonhap agency.
Jo and his wife disappeared in November 2018 shortly before his term as ambassador to Rome ended, and various media reported that he had tried to seek asylum in a third country with the help of Italy and other states.
Jeon’s confirmation comes after a parliamentarian from the main South Korean opposition party, the People’s Power Party, wrote on his Facebook profile that Jo is in the South and lives under government protection with his wife.
The daughter of the couple apparently refused to defect and was repatriated to North Korea in February last year, according to the Italian Foreign Ministry.
Jeon explained that the information about Jo’s whereabouts has been kept secret to try to protect, as much as possible, the family of the former diplomat who still remains in the North.
Jo’s defection makes him the highest ranking official of the North Korean regime to do so since Hwang Jang-yop in 1997, considered at the time as one of the three most important figures in Pyongyang.
Jo’s arrival also marks the first defection of a North Korean ambassador since Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un came to power in 2011.
In 2016, Thae Yong-ho, business manager of the North Korean embassy in London, defected to the South with his family and last year was elected to a seat in the National Assembly on the bench of the conservative People’s Power Party. EFE-EPA