North Korea’s acting ambassador to Italy is in hiding amid reports that he was seeking asylum to a western country. Jo Song Gil, a 44-year-old diplomat, has been missing for the past two months, South Korean lawmaker Kim Min-ki told reporters on Thursday after being briefed by Seoul’s National Intelligence Service, Financial Times informs.
Should the rumours be confirmed, it will be a huge embarrassment for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un who has been actively reaching out to the world to resolve the country’s nuclear issue.
Earlier, South Korean daily JoongAng Ilbo, citing an unidentified diplomatic source, said Jo had applied for asylum in the west and was in a “safe place” with his family, protected by the Italian government.
Kim said he was told by the NIS that Jo and his wife left their official residence in early November, weeks before his term was due to end later that month. The lawmaker did not reveal Jo’s whereabouts and if he was with his children, FT adds.
According to Kim, the North Korean diplomat had not contacted the NIS, which suggested he was unlikely to defect to South Korea. “They left the diplomatic mission and vanished,” Kim said, declining to elaborate on the case. Seoul’s presidential office said it had no information about the matter.
An official in Italy’s foreign ministry said the Italian government was informed by the North Korean government in mid-November that Jo had been replaced and would be leaving his post, meaning he no longer enjoyed diplomatic status in Italy. The official said that Rome had not received a request from Jo for asylum, and was not aware if he was currently in the country.
Jo became North Korea’s acting ambassador to Italy in October 2017 after the previous ambassador, Mun Jong Nam, was expelled from the country over the communist state’s nuclear and long-range missile tests, FT writes.