Jo, 48, asked for protection last month and is now "held in a safe place". He was head of the North Korean delegation since September 2017, when Italy expelled Ambassador Mun Jong-nam for the sixth nuclear test in the North.
Rome (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Jo Song-gil, North Korean ambassador to Rome, has applied to the Italian authorities for asylum for himself and his family, in an attempt to desert towards an unidentified Western country.
South Korean media reported the news today, citing diplomatic sources. Jo, 48, asked for protection last month and is now "protected in a safe place". If confirmed, his would be the first desertion of a North Korean diplomat since 2016, when London deputy-Ambassador Thae Yong-ho fled to Seoul with his wife and son.
Jo was the head of the North Korean delegation in Rome since September 2017, when Rome expelled Ambassador Mun Jong-nam after the sixth nuclear test in the North. The Jo family lived in Rome since 2015 without close relatives in Pyongyang. This is a privilege granted only to the upper echelons of North Korean power, because Pyongyang is used to use the families of officials as a deterrent to desertions. According to Seoul media, Jo is "the son or son-in-law of one of the highest exponents of the regime".