When Thae Yong-ho, North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom, defected to South Korea in August, he and his family were immediately taken into protective custody. They were grilled by South Korea’s intelligence service not only to glean all the information they could from them about North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, the ruling class, and the political situation there, but also to determine that he wasn’t a spy. After all, he’d fooled both Kim and the Brits into thinking he was the real deal — a dyed-in-the-wool hard-core communist — ever since 2004.
On Monday, South Korea sources announced that the months-long interrogation was complete and that, effective on this coming Friday, Thae will be free to go, to begin his new life in South Korea. He says he will spend the rest of his life “freeing the North Korean people from repression and persecution.” “I will engage in public activities even if it threatens my own safety,” he said.
He provided some insights into the personal life of Kim’s ruling class, including their highly insecure tenure in office. He said it was “perfectly normal” for their homes to be bugged and monitored for any hint of disloyalty to the regime. For instance, when North Korea’s defense minister Hyon Yong-Choi was executed in 2015, the international media said it might have been because he made the gross mistake of falling asleep during one of Kim’s long and endlessly boring speeches. Not so, said Thae: It was “because he said the wrong things at home.”
He noted that life among the elites is far from luxurious. Most high-level members are paid so little that they are “encouraged” to make some extra money “on the side,” referring to a black market that exists in North Korea despite sanctions against any form of “capitalism.”