Seoul’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) told lawmakers in a closed-door briefing that Jo Song-gil and his wife had gone into hiding. The pair left the official residence weeks before his term was due to be up in late November, South Korean lawmaker Kim Min-ki told the AP.
The NIS reportedly said Jo had not made contact with South Korean agents, but Kim wouldn’t say if the agency told lawmakers his current location or whether he intends to defect.
"We have reported that the NIS can not confirm the material and the exile status of the couple,” Kim said, JoongAng Ilbo reports.
Some are speculating the move could suggest the ambassador has defected. North Korea is notoriously secretive about such matters.
Jo was acting ambassador since Italy expelled the previous ambassador, Mun Jong-nam, in September 2017 to protest a North Korean nuclear test.
An unnamed source told JoongAng Ilbo that Jo “requested the Italian government to protect him from the government earlier this month," and claimed Italian authorities are sheltering him in a safe place.
According to anonymous North Korean experts cited by JoongAng Ilbo, Jo “is known as the son or son-in-law of the highest ranking official in the North Korean regime.”
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