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North Korea claims diplomat who defected from London was wanted for sex crimes

North Korea's state news agency accused high-level defector Thae Yong-ho of "embezzling a lot of state funds, selling state secrets and committing child rape."
Photo de Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

North Korea claims a high-ranking diplomat who recently defected from the United Kingdom to South Korea was fleeing a litany of criminal charges in his home country, including ones related to the sexual abuse of children.

The regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un made the accusations on Saturday in a commentary published by state media outlet KCNA. The state news agency managed to avoid naming former deputy ambassador Thae Yong-ho, who left his post in London several weeks ago and turned up earlier this week with his family in South Korea, instead referring to him as "the fugitive."


"The fugitive was ordered in June to be summoned for embezzling a lot of state funds, selling state secrets and committing child rape," KCNA said, according to Reuters. The news agency said a spokesman for Britain's Foreign Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the allegations, and Thae could not be reached in South Korea, where he is under government protection.

"This one clearly deserves legal punishment for crimes he has committed but he proved that he is human scum that has no basic loyalty as a human and no conscience and morality by running away to survive and abandoning the homeland and parents and siblings that raised and stood by him," KCNA said.

Related: How a 19-year-old North Korean escaped and became a sushi chef in America

After Thae's defection was made public earlier this week by South Korea's Ministry of Unification, a BBC correspondent who knew the diplomat reported that he had recently been recalled to Pyongyang. "He showed me not the faintest sign that he and his family had decided not to return," the BBC's Steve Evans wrote.

It's no surprise that North Korea would attempt to drag Thae's name through the mud. He is among the highest-ranking diplomats ever to defect from the Hermit Kingdom, and he likely has valuable information to share about the reclusive nation with South Korea's intelligence agencies.

"He can certainly speak about foreign policy, directives and policy documents he received from the home country and the country's areas of interest in the UK, the Republic of Ireland and probably Western Europe," Michael Madden, a North Korea expert and visiting scholar at the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, told VICE News on Monday. "If the DPRK has intelligence assets or ongoing operations in the UK or the embassy was being used as a base of operations for illicit activities then he can speak on those."

North Korea frequently makes outlandish allegations about high-profile defectors. After the entire staff of a restaurant in China operated by the Kim regime defected to South Korea earlier this year, Pyongyang said the 12 female servers and their male supervisor were kidnapped by South Korean spies. Seoul denied the claim.

Follow Keegan Hamilton on Twitter: @keegan_hamilton