North Korean ambassador to Italy ‘disappears’
High ranking official and his wife are said to have fled embassy in Rome
North Korea’s acting ambassador to Italy has reportedly “disappeared”, and is suspected of trying to defect to an unnamed Western country, according to South Korean intelligence.
The news of the possible defection by Jo Song Gil (pictured above) and his wife was reported to South Korean government MPs by Seoul’s National Intelligence Service, who say they have not been able to make contact with the missing official.
A spokesperson for South Korean MP Kim Min-ki told CNN that Jo’s appointment as acting ambassador was reportedly due to finish in November last year. He was last seen at the embassy earlier that month, and has not been seen since.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said his office had no information about the case, and Korea’s National Intelligence Service says that it has not yet been able to confirm that Jo and his wife are attempting to defect.
According to the Associated Press, a high-profile defection by one of North Korea’s elite would be a “huge embarrassment for leader Kim Jong Un as he pursues diplomacy with Seoul and Washington and seeks to portray himself as a geopolitical player”.
Jo had been acting ambassador to Italy since 2017, when his predecessor was expelled from Rome following North Korea’s sixth nuclear test.
If Jo has defected, he would be the highest profile North Korean official to do so since Thae Yong Ho abandoned his position as deputy envoy to the United Kingdom in 2016.