SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea’s former deputy ambassador to Britain said on Monday he defected to South Korea after becoming disenchanted with the North’s regime under Kim Jong Un, a South Korean member of parliament said.
Thae Yong Ho became the highest-ranking North Korean diplomat to flee the isolated country when he defected to the South in August, in an embarrassing blow to the North.
Thae, speaking to some members of South Korean parliament’s Intelligence Committee on Monday, denied that he had defected to the South out of fear of punishment after committing a crime, as alleged by North Korea’s state media, saying he had anticipated such accusations.
Thae spoke to the committee behind closed door but some of his comments were carried by South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency, and confirmed by the committee’s chairman, Lee Cheol-woo, to Reuters by telephone.
Thae said he defected with his wife and two sons. He said he did not have a daughter left behind in the North, as some media outlets have reported.
He said he would be released from the protection of South Korea’s spy agency on Friday but he is likely to remain living under tight security.
Thae said he had expected the North to level charges of a financial crime such as embezzlement, so he had kept a record of his finances during his time at the embassy and took photographs of the record.
North Korea has not identified Thae as a defector but in August, its state media accused an unidentified senior diplomat who defected from his post in Britain of fleeing to escape punishment for various crimes including child rape.
Reporting by Ju-min Park; Writing by Jack Kim; Editing by Robert Birsel