Seoul lawmaker Kim Min-ki today said North Korea's top diplomat in Italy has gone into hiding. Speaking to reporters after a closed-door meeting with South Korean intelligence officials, Kim said, "Acting ambassador Jo Song Gil's term was ending in late November last year and he escaped the diplomatic compound in early November."
The briefing by the spy agency to lawmakers happened after South Korea's JoongAng Ilbo daily reported that Jo had sought asylum in an unidentified Western country with his family.
Quoting a diplomatic source in Seoul, the daily said, "He sought asylum early last month." Italian authorities were "agonising" over what to do, the official was cited as saying, but added that they were "protecting him in a safe place".
48-year-old Jo has been acting ambassador in Rome since October 2017 after Italy expelled the then ambassador Mun Jong Nam in protest at a nuclear test by the North a month earlier in violation of UN resolutions. Italy is an important diplomatic mission for Pyongyang, as it handles relations with the Rome-headquartered UN Food and Agriculture Organization and North Korea suffers from chronic food shortages.