SEOUL (AFP) - North Korea's deputy ambassador to Britain, who defected to South Korea this week, is a criminal who had been ordered to return home for questioning, Pyongyang state media said on Saturday (Aug 20).
Mr Thae Yong Ho is one of the highest ranking North Korean diplomats ever to defect to the South - gifting Seoul a major propaganda coup at a time of rising tension on the divided Korean peninsula.
Pyongyang's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said that Thae, who they described as "human scum", had embezzled state funds, raped a minor and spied for South Korea in exchange for money.
The report did not name the "diplomat who fled his mission in London" but was apparently referring to Thae.
Any defection by a ranking member of an overseas North Korean mission would make waves, but London is considered a particularly prestigious posting that puts Thae's move on a whole different level.
The news agency in Pyongyang criticised Britain for handing over Thae and his family to the South, saying that Pyongyang had previously told London of his crimes and requested his extradition.
The comments mark Pyongyang's first public response to the high-level defection, which was a rare and damaging loss of diplomatic face for North Korea.
Seoul said earlier this week that Thae's defection reflected a loss of faith among North Korea's elite in Kim Jong-Un's leadership.
Thae had become disillusioned with the Pyongyang regime, admired South Korea's free and democratic system, and was concerned about his family's future, the South's Unification Ministry said after the defection.
KCNA said Thae had fled "for fear of legal punishment for his crimes", adding that the South had brought the "fugitive" to Seoul to use him in its anti-Pyongyang smear campaign.
Thae was told to return home in June "for questioning as regards the embezzlement of huge amount of state funds, leakage of state secrets for money and rape of a minor", it said.
The North's prosecution authorities issued a legal document on starting the investigation on July 12, KCNA said.
"He deserved a legal punishment for his crimes, but he took to flight, betraying his country and parents and other kith and kin", KCNA said.
"He thus revealed himself as human scum bereft of an elementary sense of moral obligation and conscience," it added.
British journalists who met him described Thae as likeable, urbane and highly articulate - qualities that come across in a series of talks posted on YouTube in which, among other things, he compares life in Britain and North Korea.
North Korean defectors have been making headlines recently, largely due to an unusual group defection in April by a dozen waitresses and their manager who were working at a North Korean-run restaurant in China.
Referring to that case, KCNA on Saturday said Seoul was responsible for "such hideous terrorism as kidnapping."
Thae was believed to have worked at the embassy in London for 10 years where a large part of his duties involved countering criticism of North Korea's human rights record and other negative media coverage.
Analysts said Thae had a privileged background and powerful connections with the ruling elite and that his defection represented the flight of some of the North's best and brightest.
The North's diplomats, who have to meet strict quotas on earning hard currency for state coffers, face growing difficulties and distress in the face of international sanctions, Yonhap reported.