North Korea's flag. Photograph:( Others )
South Korea's spy agency had briefed lawmakers on the fate of the diplomat after a newspaper reported that Jo had sought asylum
Italy is not aware of any asylum request from North Korea's top diplomat in Rome who has reportedly gone into hiding in the country, a source close to the foreign ministry said on Thursday.
"We have no knowledge" of such a request, the source told AFP, adding that the ministry had simply received a request for the "replacement" of the diplomat, identified by Seoul as Jo Song Gil.
But the ministry did not know his whereabouts, the source said, adding that the replacement had arrived in Rome.
South Korea's spy agency had briefed lawmakers on the fate of the diplomat after a newspaper reported that Jo had sought asylum in an unnamed Western country with his family.
Jo, 48, has been acting ambassador in Rome since October 2017 after Italy expelled the then ambassador Mun Jong Nam in protest at a nuclear test by the North a month earlier in violation of UN resolutions.
Italy is an important diplomatic mission for Pyongyang, as it handles relations with the Rome-headquartered UN Food and Agriculture Organization and North Korea suffers from chronic food shortages.
Meanwhile, a Seoul lawmaker told reporters after a closed-door meeting with intelligence officials on Thursday that North Korea's top diplomat in Italy has gone into hiding.
"Acting ambassador Jo Song Gil's term was ending in late November last year and he escaped the diplomatic compound in early November" with his wife, Kim Min-ki told reporters.