Top North Korean diplomat Thae Yong-ho, who disappeared from the country’s embassy in the UK, has defected to South Korea, officials in Seoul have confirmed.
Thae Yong-ho and his family are under the government’s protection, a South Korean official said.
He was the ambassador’s deputy and is thought to be the highest-ranking North Korean official ever to defect.
He had been due to return to Pyongyang with his wife and children.
Thae Yong-ho had come under pressure from his government to quash growing criticism of North Korea’s human rights record, sources say.
In the past, Thae Yong-ho had argued the British were brainwashed by their ruling class into believing “shocking, terrifying” lies about North Korea under its leader Kim Jong-un.
“If the people in this country, or in America, knew that there is a country in the world where there is a free education, free housing, free medical care, then they’d have second thoughts,” he had said in one speech.
South Korean Unification spokesman Jeong Joon-hee said: “On his reasons for defection, Minister Thae cited disgust with Kim Jong-Un’s regime, admiration for South Korea’s free, democratic system and the future of his family.”