Acting North Korean Ambassador to Italy disappeared with his wife in November, 2018, and has not been officially seen since. The generally accepted scenario is that they are in hiding and have applied for asylum to at least one foreign nation.
The reason this has been the assumption has been the statements of the countries involved. North Korea and Italy have been reacting as if the Ambassador, Jo Song-gil, defected with his family.
The North Korean government addressed the situation.
The North Korean embassy in Italy on December 5 2018 informed the Italian foreign ministry that former chargé d’affaires Jo Song Gil and his wife had left the embassy on November 10 and that their daughter, having asked to return to her grandparents in her country, returned there on November 14 2018, accompanied by embassy female staff, the Italian foreign ministry said Wednesday, saying it had “no other information on the affair”.Ansa
The daughter, a 17 year old student in Italy, had not been seen leaving Italy or arriving in North Korea. There were questions about whether she might be held somewhere within the country or whether she might have left under the exact conditions described by North Korea. An investigation was begun by local authorities. The information gathered triggered a response from Maria Spadoni, the Vice-President of their lower house of Parliament:
The Microsoft translation: “Did North Korean Intelligence sequestered the daughter of Ambassador Jo Song-Gil on Italian soil? Very serious episode. Matteo Salvini comes to report in the courtroom as soon as possible.”
Another prominent member of the nationalist Five-Star Movement commented:
Manlio Di Stefano, deputy foreign affairs minister, said that if the report was confirmed the case would have been of “unprecedented severity”.The Guardian
“Those responsible will pay,” he added.
Salvini is the leader of the nationalist party The League, which shares a coalition government with Five-Star; there have been many reports of internal pressures building between the two groups.
North Korean defector Thae Yong-ho confirmed the girl’s return to North Korea after the Italian statements, telling the South Korean Chosun Ilbo that multiple sources had told him that Jo and his wife were together, but that the daughter had been returned; he also abandoned his call for Jo to be accepted by South Korea, due to the punishments which would be delivered to the daughter if that were to happen.
WHAT THIS MEANS:
There’s a lot of “reading between the lines” in this story, and it’s important to recognize that it can be difficult to get hard evidence when dealing with government entities, particularly secretive and dictatorial ones.
The overwhelming likelihood is that after the acting Ambassador decided to defect, the Italian authorities moved to protect the 17 year old student but were unsuccessful. The girl was forcibly taken and held by agents of the North Korean government who eventually smuggled her back to North Korea. The report was received by members of the Five-Star movement who are angry that Italian sovereignity was flouted, and are blaming The League.
During the run-up to the first Trump/Kim summit, some American prisoners were released in a public relations move by the North Koreans, who were attempting to gain credibility on the world stage. Now that Trump has allowed them to achieve that goal, they seem disinclined to maintain a positive face toward international relations.