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Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.
A group comprised of at least two members with links to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) used violence against diplomatic staff during a break-in at North Korea’s embassy in Madrid last month, a source with knowledge of Spain’s investigation and legal documents suggested on Wednesday.
“They beat them pretty badly,” the source said, explaining that when a senior official responsible for commercial affairs refused to defect, the invaders “beat him again.”
“Apparently the state they were left in was quite bad.”
The claims come despite a statement from Cheollima Civil Defense – which took responsibility for the invasion and theft of property from the embassy on Tuesday – that “no one was gagged or beaten” and that “this was not an attack.”
But details published by the official publication of the General Judicial Council of Spain (Poder Judicial Espana) – based on DPRK staff accounts to the police and a subsequent judicial and police investigation – echoed claims of violence being used by some of the ten invaders against embassy personnel there.
Equipped with replica guns, a shoulder holster, combat knives, gas pistols, shackles, and double-sided tape, the group “got inside (the embassy) carrying machetes, knives, and iron bars” the Poder Judicial Espana said in its official account.
After entering the embassy at around 1630, the invaders “began to violently beat the occupants, until they managed to restrict them by putting (them in) shackles,” the official report said.
“After 60 minutes in the meeting room, three of the assailants took the Charge d’Affaires to one of the basement rooms where two of them urged him to defect from North Korea, identifying themselves as members of a human rights movement or association for the liberation of North Korea,” the Poder Judicial Espana account continued.
“When he assured them that he would not betray his country and would not desert, he was again tied up and his head was again covered with a black bag,” the official report added.
“The assailants, according to the judge, held the people in the embassy for several hours – holding them with shackles and bridles as they kept beating them.”
Spanish newspaper El Confidencial later reported that at least “one of the (embassy) workers was seriously injured in the face during the assault and received medical care inside the (embassy) headquarters.”
Reuters reported on Tuesday, citing a Spanish judicial source, that Madrid will seek the extradition from the U.S. of the ten suspects, which include Mexican passport holder Adrian Hong Chang, as well as U.S. and South Koreans.
At least two of the individuals involved in the raid had been in contact with a representative of the CIA at some point prior, the informed source familiar with Spain’s investigation said.
But there was no evidence to suggest the CIA had funded or been directly involved in the raid, the source said, emphasizing only that a meeting had taken place at some prior point.
While Spanish intelligence reportedly has “solid proof” of at least two of the group meeting with CIA representatives, the source said when the U.S. was confronted with evidence it provided no confirmation to Spain about its participation in meetings with the group members.
Unwilling to risk destabilizing Spain’s relations with the U.S. over the issue, investigators in Madrid did not cite evidence relating to contact between the two group members and the CIA representative in the official court account.
But shortly afterward, Spanish investigators leaked information about the alleged CIA connection to members of the local press, resulting in claims surfacing in newspapers including El Pais in mid-March.
And while those reports have prompted widespread speculation that intelligence services had either directed or tacitly allowed the raid to take place, others expressed more skepticism.
“Infiltrating a North Korean embassy days before the nuclear summit would throw that all into jeopardy,” Sue Mi Terry, a North Korea expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) told the Washington Post earlier in the month.
“This is not something the CIA would undertake.”
Cheollima Civil Defense, for its part, on Tuesday denied any government involvement in the raid, though admitted it had made contact with U.S. law enforcement after the fact.
“The organization shared certain information of enormous potential value with the FBI in the United States, under mutually agreed terms of confidentiality,” a statement said.
“This information was shared voluntarily and on their request, not our own.”
SOUTH KOREAN FOREKNOWLEDGE?
Notably, the source said that South Korea’s embassy in Madrid also had some knowledge of the incident shortly before it took place and immediately after.
Given its close monitoring of North Korean activities overseas, they said the South Korean embassy in Madrid knew that one member of the group had visited the DPRK embassy ahead of the invasion.
Spanish daily El Pais reported that Adrian Hong Chang – a well known North Korea human rights activist thought to head the Cheollima Civil Defense (CCD) organization – visited the DPRK embassy two weeks ahead of the invasion, posing as an “entrepreneur with offices in the United Arab Emirates and Canada who wanted to invest in North Korea.”
The visit – allegedly known to South Korea’s embassy in Madrid – was conducted as part of pre-raid research by the CCD organization.
Furthermore, the source said that the South Korean embassy was approached by Spanish authorities in the immediate wake of the incident, even providing translation assistance to one of the North Korean staff who was unable to speak Spanish.
“Upon this matter, there is nothing additional for our government to confirm,” a spokesperson for the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs said when asked about the claims on Wednesday.
Spanish news portal Vozpopuli said that local police had also made inquiries with South Korea’s embassy on February 28.
“(Police) agents went to the South Korean mission with the order to identify every person entering or leaving the building,” the news portal said, citing sources familiar with the investigation.
That was because North Korean embassy employees, they reported, “told the police that the assailants who had entered their embassy were nationals of South Korea.”
Tuesday saw the Cheollima group’s statement indicating strong discontent with information shared with media about the identities of individual members of the invasion team.
“To share information that may help identify any of us who take risks to protect others is to aid and abet the regime in Pyongyang,” the statement said.
“That information was leaked to the media was a profound betrayal of trust,” their statement continued. “We ourselves never spoke to the media or shared any information with them.”
And while some observers criticized outlets including NK News for sharing additional information about those identified by the Spanish courts, the source said official process meant it would have been impossible for names not to have been released by Madrid.
Even though the Spanish government would likely have preferred details surrounding the issue to have remained obscured, the source explained the court is fully independent in Spain and wants the suspects extradited to face charges.
And Spanish law mandates that they must be named as the Court “cannot just say it’s seeking to extradite three unidentified individuals from the U.S.,” they said.
Edited by Oliver Hotham