SEOUL – North Korea’s former envoy to Italy, who disappeared from the embassy in Rome in November last year, is under protection at an undisclosed location in a third country, a South Korean lawmaker briefed by an intelligence official said on Thursday.
The revelation was made by opposition lawmaker Lee Eun-jae of the Liberty Korea Party after her closed-door meeting with Suh Hoon, director of the National Intelligence Service (NIS).
Lee told reporters in the South Korean capital that the former envoy, Jo Song-gil, has “left Italy and is being protected somewhere.”
The lawmaker said Seoul was not providing him protection and asylum but rather “it appears to be a third country,” South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.
Jo, 48, who had been North Korea’s acting ambassador to Italy since October 2017, left his charge d’affaires post in Rome last November, and was reported missing along with his wife and children since then.
His disappearance was widely seen as a defection attempt and the family was believed to be looking for asylum.
Jo took charge of the North Korean embassy after the Italian government expelled ambassador Mun Jung-nam following the North’s nuclear test in September 2017.
The envoy and his family were last seen in early November 2018, a few weeks before his term in Italy was set to end.
In January, Rome had denied that Jo had filed an asylum request to stay in Italy. The family were believed to be hiding in the European country.