North Korean ambassador to Italy reportedly in hiding
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA » North Korea’s top diplomat in Italy has gone into hiding, South Korea’s intelligence officials told lawmakers on Thursday.
Jo Song Gil, the acting North Korean ambassador to Rome, disappeared from the official residence in what would be the latest in a growing list of defections by Pyongyang’s envoys.
Such a high-profile break would be a humiliating blow to North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, who is seeking to establish himself as a legitimate leader with global standing after a year of unprecedented diplomatic outreach.
South Korean lawmaker Kim Min-ki briefed reporters about Jo’s possible defection based on information shared by Seoul’s spy agency in a closed- door hearing.
According to the lawmaker, Jo and his wife disappeared before the end of his term, which was scheduled for late November.
The lawmaker said that in the two months since, Jo has not contacted South Korea’s National Intelligence Agency, suggesting that he could be seeking asylum in a different country.
A press officer for the Italian Foreign Ministry said officials there have no record of the defection and that the North Koreans notified the ministry six weeks ago that Jo was leaving his post.
Officials at the North Korean Embassy in Rome could not be reached for comment.
Antonio Razzi, a former Italian lawmaker, said in a phone interview Thursday that he had gotten to know Jo over the years and that they had last met Oct. 29.
Over lunch that day, Jo told him that his term was over and that he had to fly back home.
“He told me he would first go on a tour of Italy with his family,” said Razzi, who is the head of the Italian-North Korean bilateral friendship group.
A month later, Razzi tried to call Jo’s Italian cell number, with no luck.