South Korea has confirmed that a senior diplomat from the North Korean embassy in London has defected.
Thae Yong Ho and his family are now said to be in Seoul in South Korea.
Thae who vanished earlier this month with his wife and children, was based at North Korea’s suburban embassy in Ealing, west London.
After several days of rumours, South Korea’s unification ministry confirmed on Wednesday that Thae, who is thought to be in his late 50s, was now in Seoul with his family.
“Deputy Ambassador Thae has said that his reasons for defection are that he is sick and tired of the Kim Jong Un regime, that he longs for South Korea’s liberal democracy, and that he is concerned about his children and the future,” announced Jeong Joon-Hee.
Thae’s departure could also be linked to tougher sanctions against North Korea following this year’s nuclear and long-range missile tests.
South Korean officials did not disclose how or when Thae arrived, but its believed the family had “disappeared” sometime in July.
North Korean diplomats generally must leave one member of their immediate family in Pyongyang – the regime’s insurance against defections – and it was not clear if Thae had managed to take all of his family with him.
The defection, the latest in a string of high-profile escapes, constitutes an embarrassing blow to North Korea’s authoritarian leadership and potentially an intelligence windfall for South Korea and its allies.
However defection is not without risk. The regime often exacts revenge on relatives and friends at home and has been known to pursue defectors abroad.