Restaurant manager says S. Korean government involved in group defection

Posted on : 2016-04-14 16:10 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Account of manager in China differs with Seoul’s, who said 13 restaurant employees defected on their own
A man keeps watch outside the Ryukyung Restaurant in Ningbo
A man keeps watch outside the Ryukyung Restaurant in Ningbo

The South Korean government was clearly involved from the beginning in the group defection of 13 employees from a North Korean restaurant in China, the restaurant’s Chinese manager said. The manager’s account is notable since it diverges substantially from the government’s announcement that the North Korean employees defected on their own after a long period of deliberation.

“I think that the employees were getting help from someone during the entire detection process. Obviously, that was South Korea,” the Chinese restaurant manager, only identified by the letter O, told the Hankyoreh during a telephone interview on Apr. 13. The restaurant, called Ryukyung, is located in the city of Ningbo in China‘s Zhejiang Province.

The manager confirmed that three female employees had attempted to defect first before returning to the restaurant and that the 13 employees who had gone looking for them ended up going to South Korea. “It’s obvious that all of this had been worked out in advance,” O added.

When asked who had orchestrated the defection, O said that it was “clear” and “obvious” that it was the person identified by the letter H, 36, who was known as “manager” and who even held the passports of the female North Korean employees.

O also said that H had taken money from the restaurant management (including himself), with the sum amounting to 1.2 to 1.3 million RMB (US$185,000-US$200,000).

According to O, H had financial problems. “I’m not sure about this, but I think he had some private debt,” O said.

In regard to whether the 12 female employees who defected wanted to go to South Korea, O said, “It’s hard to say for certain, since they didn‘t talk to us very much.”

“We won’t be able to say until the results of the Chinese authorities‘ investigation come out after a while,” O said.

Responding to a question about the location of the seven employees who did not defect, O said that they are in Ningbo with diplomats from the North Korean embassy. “They’ll be going back to North Korea in a couple of days,” O said.

“The employees don‘t have any mobile phones so we can’t get in touch with them. The man, reportedly a security guard or the assistant manager, may be with the embassy officials as well, because we haven’t heard from him either,” O said..

When asked whether H’s wife was among those who had remained, O said, “H’s wife had worked at the restaurant, but she went back to North Korea last year. The woman who was called his ’wife‘ here in Ningbo was an employee that was on good terms with him.”

According to previous reports, H had left behind a wife of one and a half years when he defected to South Korea.

By Kim Oi-hyun, Beijing correspondent

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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