Defection of Jo Song Gil, the former top North Korean diplomat to Italy [Updated 07.01.2018]

Jo Song Gil, the top North Korean diplomat (the de facto North Korean ambassador to Italy) in Italy probably defected in November 2018.

Born in 1970, Jo Song Gil studied at the Faculty of International Relations of the Kim Il Sung University and completed his education in Roma between 2006 and 2009. His father and father-in-law served as ambassadors.

Jo Song Gil is married to Ri Kwang Sun (리광순), the daughter of the former ambassador to Thailand Ri Do Sop (리도섭). He lived in the area of Ryonhwa-dong (련화동), a district of Pyongyang reserved to North Korean elites.

In the early 2000’s he worked at the European Department of the North Korean MOFA. He was nominated as the first counselor of the North Korean embassy in Rome in May 2015. As many other diplomats based in Italy, he was visited by other North Korean diplomats based in Europe (such as Thae Yong Ho, who defected in 2017) and North Korean diplomats based at the North Korean embassy in Poland (such as a former culturel attaché).  These diplomats used to live in the premises of the North Korean embassy in Roma (address: Viale dell’Esperanto, 26, 00144 Roma).

In 1995, Kim Dong Sik, the North Korean representative to the WFO defected from Italy. He works now as a researcher in South Korea. In 2015, a counselor in charge of science affairs at the North’s embassy in Germany defected with his wife to South Korea, while a secretary-level trade official stationed in Bulgaria and his wife also fled.

Jo Song Gil
Jo Song Gil is at the top left of this picture. The picture was taken during a meeting with Antonio Razzi (second from right), a former member of the Italian Senate for the centre-right party Forza Italia. Antonio Razzi is considered as a useful idiot.

 Another key-diplomat who defected in the past  is Thae Yong Ho. This North Korean diplomat based in London, defected from his workplace in august 2016. His defection was not fully a surprise as he was supposed to come back to Pyongyang. He refused to do this and therefore has no other choices than leaving UK and going abroad. Thae Yong Ho had also some health issues, which was an additional motivation to leave London.

Thae Yong Ho wrote a public letter to Jo Song Gil, which available on the Donga Ilbo website. In this document, Mr. Thae tries to convince Mr. Jo, to come to South Korea. 

Jo Song Gil is different from the most famous and publicly known defectors for the following reasons:

First he’s speaking English and Italian and therefore, his knowledge about North Korea maybe made quickly available. Other famous North Korean defectors (Hwang Jang Yop (passed away in 2010), Jang Seung Gil, Ko Young Hwan,…) usually do not speak English.

Secondly Thae Yong Ho worked also in illegal activities (like the majority of North Korean diplomat). His responsibility may be questioned, however his knowledge on these issues will be for sure remarkable. Jo Song Gil handled negotiations with the World Food Program over food aid to the North and served as an intermediary for smuggling luxury items to the North Korean elite.

Therefore I consider that Jo Song Gil  will be under the strict control of Italian organs, more than other famous North Korean defectors such as Thae Yong Ho (protected by South Korean authorities). 

 

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Nicolas Levi

Analyst on North Korean issues

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