(LEAD) N.K. official running state coffers in Europe disappears: media report
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SEOUL, Aug. 19 (Yonhap) -- A North Korean official managing money for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Europe has disappeared, raising speculation that he might have defected with a large amount of state funds, a local media report said Friday.
Citing anonymous sources, major local daily newspaper the Dong-A Ilbo reported that the official in charge of money management for the so-called No. 39 office of the Workers' Party vanished in June. The office is known for running money for Kim's regime.
The North Korean official is currently staying in an unidentified European country. He and his two sons are also under the protection of local authorities, the report claimed.
The media report, which has not been independently verified, said that he disappeared with hundreds of billions of won that had been under his management. He was reported to have worked in the same European country for the past 20 years.
If confirmed, this would mark yet another high-profile defection of a North Korean following the Seoul government's announcement on Wednesday that Thae Yong-ho, a minister at the North's mission in London, defected to the South with his wife and children.
The defection of the seasoned diplomat, the No. 2 man in the embassy, is seen as a sign that the international community's stepped-up sanctions on the North following its nuclear and missile provocations are taking their toll even on the country's elite.
Thae's defection comes amid a steady increase in the number of North Korean diplomats abandoning their country to seek a new life in the South.
According to informed sources, 10 North Korean diplomats defected to the South last year, but the number had reached almost the same level in the first half of this year. Of these defectors, most came from the North's overseas missions in Europe, with some coming from Southeast Asian countries.