The second in command of North Korea’s embassy in London defected to South Korea with his family, officials in Seoul said Wednesday, describing him as “sick and tired” of Kim Jong Un’s regime.
The defection, the latest in a string of high-profile escapes, constitutes an embarrassing blow to North Korea’s authoritarian leadership and potentially an intelligence windfall for South Korea and its allies, including the United States.
Thae Yong Ho, a cosmopolitan career diplomat, was a key official at the embassy, in a residential area of west London, and is thought to have escorted Kim Jong Chol, the North Korean leader’s older brother, during his trip to the U.K. last year to attend an Eric Clapton concert.
“He is absolutely central to the operation of that embassy,” said Adam Cathcart, a North Korea expert at Leeds University who’d met Thae several times. “He’d been there longer than the ambassador and all the North Korea hands in London assumed that he was a really key person there.”
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