About the Author
View more articles by Hamish Macdonald
Hamish Macdonald is an NK News contributor and has previously worked at The Korea Herald and for the Australia Centre for Independent Journalism in Sydney.
The daughter of a North Korean diplomat who likely defected from the country returned to the DPRK following the disappearance of her parents late last year, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Wednesday.
The former chargé d’affaires for the DPRK embassy in Rome, Jo Song Gil, is believed to have defected in November last year with his wife, however, it was understood that his daughter was not able to accompany them.
The foreign ministry said that it was informed via diplomatic channels “that the former Chargé d’Affaires Jo Song Gil and his wife had left the Embassy” on November 10, the ministry statement read.
“Their daughter, having expressed the wish to return to her country to stay with her grandparents, had returned there on 14 November 2018, accompanied by some of the female staff of the Embassy,” it added.
According to the ministry, the notification of the repatriation was dated December 5, meaning it was issued 21 days after Jo’s daughter was meant to have left Italy accompanied by unnamed embassy staff.
A diplomatic source with knowledge of the case told NK News in January that Jo was due to return home to the DPRK in November, with his three-year term reportedly scheduled to end around the 20th.
On Tuesday in Seoul, Thae Yong-ho — a former North Korean diplomat who defected from the DPRK Embassy in the UK in 2016 — said that Jo’s daughter had been repatriated to North Korea and was in the custody of DPRK authorities.
“North Korea took the child back to the country immediately,” Thae told journalists, saying he had been able to confirm the story with his sources.
“I’ve confirmed that Jo Song Gil’s daughter was repatriated to North Korea and she is under the control of the North Korean authorities.”
Thae’s comments and subsequent local media coverage appears to have sparked a reaction from Italian politicians also on Wednesday. This included a Facebook post by Italian politician and undersecretary at the foreign ministry Manlio Di Stefano.
“The story of Jo Song-gil and his daughter, seventeen years old, kidnapped by the North Korean intelligence in Italy, if confirmed, would be a case of unprecedented gravity,” he said.
“Now it is time to shed light on this case of November concerning the former North Korean ambassador in Rome and his daughter, a young innocent woman who, despite being protected in Italy, risks being even tortured by one of the worst regimes in the world,” he added.
The Italian foreign ministry statement was published shortly after Di Stefano’s post. Di Stefano did not respond to an NK News request for additional comment regarding the statement in time for publication.
According to the ministry on Wednesday, it also received another notice via diplomatic channels on November 20, that stated the position of Chargé d’Affaires in Rome would be assumed by an individual called Kim Chon.