North Korea's deputy ambassador in London has defected and fled abroad with his family, according to reports. The diplomat, Thae Yong Ho, reportedly lived in the U.K. for 10 years with his wife and family and disappeared from his home in west London several weeks ago.
South Korea's JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reported, quoting an unnamed source, that the diplomat embarked on a defection journey "following a scrupulous plan" and was in the process of "landing in a third country as an asylum seeker." The paper said that in this context "a third country" meant neither North nor South Korea.
"The DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] Embassy made belated attempts to figure out the diplomat's whereabouts, but has failed," the paper's report added.
According to BBC, one of Thae's main responsibilities in London had been to spread the message that North Korea and its leadership under Kim Jong Un had been misreported and misunderstood. In several media contacts, Thae spoke publicly about media coverage of North Korea, including the press behavior of sensationalizing stories about Pyongynag.
"I don't blame reporters," Thae said during a speech in late 2014. "If they broadcast (North Korea) as it is, the editors of these TV stations and newspapers will (change it)."
"The more horrifying, the more shocking stories they create, the more they will be viewed by the British public," he reportedly added.
If the news of Thae's defection is confirmed, it would be one of the most high-profile defections in recent years from the increasingly isolated country.
The news comes amid a string of recent such incidents, including when twelve waitresses at a North Korean restaurant in China defected to South Korea earlier this year.