South Korean media reported today (Thursday) that a senior North Korean figure has defected to the south, Pyongyang’s ambassador to Kuwait, Ryo Hyun Woo. The person who disclosed the information is another senior diplomat who defected from the country in 2016.
To those unfamiliar with North Korea, the ambassador’s role in Kuwait does not seem particularly great or interesting, but the young oil princess has served in recent years as one of the most important cash pipelines for Pyongyang’s fundraising project, known as Room 39.
Hyun Woo was the son-in-law of the former “Room 39” manager and one of the obvious candidates for the position, which is one of the reasons he was sent to deal with what was happening in Kuwait. In recent years, the Arab country has served as an important client for North Korean state construction companies that provided construction workers and engineers with previous local projects. Lax Kuwaiti trade laws helped North Korea seal more deals, putting a lot of money in Pyongyang’s depleting coffers.
But the economic crisis that hit North Korea last year, largely due to the collapse of trade with China due to the Coronavirus and a series of natural disasters that affected the country’s agricultural sector, put great pressure on the fundraising system in Pyongyang. Different in the world.
A few months before Hyun Woo fled to the West, North Korea’s ambassador to Italy had also made a similar split, apparently also due to intense pressure from Pyongyang to bring in revenue from the country’s embassy business.
Last month, North Korea’s Governor Kim Jong Un gave an unprecedented speech acknowledging that the economic plan he announced nearly two years ago was a complete failure and that the country was in the throes of crisis. Experts in South Korea and Western countries estimate that the crisis has undermined the regime’s grip, and that many in the diplomatic establishment and higher circles are considering defections to the south.