Senior North Korean espionage official 'may have fled to Britain after defecting'

Senior North Korean espionage official 'may have fled to Britain after defecting'North Korea has launched an international manhunt for one of its most senior counter-espionage officers, who disappeared in late February and is believed to have defected, possibly to Britain, according to a media report in South Korea.  The official has been identified as a Mr Kang, a colonel in his 50s with the Ministry of State Security and responsible for monitoring dissident and espionage efforts in Russia, China and south-east Asia. He disappeared from the Zhongpu International Hotel in the Chinese city of Shenyang on February 25, sources in China and North Korea told the Seoul-based DailyNK news website.  The hotel was previously known as the Chilbosan Hotel and was operated jointly by the North Korean and Chinese governments. The hotel has reportedly served as a key base for North Korean hackers operating in China.  The sources claim Mr Kang had been in charge of directing intelligence-gathering and ground operations, as well as overseeing the obtaining of data for North Korea’s nuclear programme by arranging covert exchanges between scientists.  Kim Jong-un | A history of executions – family, allies and rivals The report added that he is understood to have fled with a large amount of foreign currency and a “machine capable of printing American dollars”.  Mr Kang was considered to be among the elite of North Korean society because he is a direct descendant of Kang Pan-sok, a key figure in the regime’s history as a leader of the guerrilla campaign against the Japanese occupiers in the 1930s.  Given his lineage and his knowledge of North Korean espionage efforts, the sources claimed at least 10 of Pyongyang’s agents had been dispatched with orders directly from Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, to assassinate him before he can be granted asylum in Europe. In numbers | North Korean defectors “Despite presently being unable to locate Mr Kang, the search is still under way”, the DailyNK reported. “It is presumed that he has gone to France or Great Britain”.  Another source said Mr Kang had defected after members of Group 109 – charged with rooting out foreign media smuggled into North Korea – searched his son’s home and found documents that indicated he had secretly earned money while stationed overseas. Summoned to Pyongyang to explain himself, Mr Kang instead chose to flee.  His family, however, are still in North Korea because the authorities changed the rules permitting senior officials to be accompanied by their immediate family after Thae Yong-ho, his wife and two children defected from Pyongyang’s embassy in London in 2016. 



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