A mysterious assault on the North Korean embassy in Madrid took a dramatic turn on Tuesday as a Spanish judge unsealed the investigation into the commando-style assault and reported that the leader of the operation had immediately flown to the US and offered the information taken from the embassy to the FBI.
On the afternoon of February 22, 10 assailants entered the North Korean embassy in Madrid and tied up and interrogated six staff members. A seventh embassy worker managed to hide from the attackers before escaping and summoning Spanish police — but only after a delay to locate a Korean translator.
When the police arrived at the embassy, the assailants managed to elude them using embassy vehicles, taking the electronics with them, and escaped the next day to Portugal.
As described in a report by judge José de la Mata of Spain’s Audiencia Nacional, the leader of the commando-style group, who is a Mexican citizen living in the US and was identified as Adrián Hong Chang, then flew to Newark, New Jersey.
Several days later he contacted the FBI to offer information about the incident as well as information from the electronics taken.
Mr Hong Chang reportedly also carried an Italian driver’s licence in the name of Matthew Chao — and had an Uber account in the name of Oswaldo Trump.
The FBI declined to comment on the specific claims in the report by the Spanish judge, saying it was “standard practice to neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation”.
But an FBI spokesperson said the agency “enjoys a strong working relationship with our Spanish law enforcement partners that centres on information sharing and regular co-operation around matters of mutual assistance”.
Mr De la Mata’s report on the incident summarises what Mr Hong Chang told the FBI, including details of the assault and the flight to Portugal and then New Jersey.
The state department said the US government had no involvement with the raid.
Mr De la Mata has issued international arrest warrants for Mr Hong Chang and another member of the operation identified as Sam Ryu, a naturalised American born in South Korea. The five other assailants identified in the report are South Korean.
In the days leading up to the operation, members of the group bought weapons, handcuffs and 33 rolls of double-sided tape in stores around Madrid.
On the afternoon of the raid, Mr De la Mata reported, Mr Hong Chang visited the embassy and asked to speak to the chargé d’affaires, Yun Sok So. Left alone, he opened the door to let in other members of his group. Once inside, they beat and tied the embassy workers and searched the grounds, reportedly taking two pen drives, two computers, two hard drives and a mobile phone.
In the weeks since the assault, Spanish media, citing anonymous intelligence sources, reported that Spanish police and intelligence investigators have linked the attack to the CIA. The CIA denied involvement, El País newspaper said, but government sources told the Spanish paper that their response was “unconvincing”.
Speculation on the motive for the attack centred on the fact that it occurred days before US president Donald Trump’s failed nuclear summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi.
Kim Hyok Chol, the former North Korean ambassador to Madrid who was expelled from Spain in 2017 over his country’s nuclear programme, was one of the leader’s top advisers. Spanish media believe that the plot was meant to gain information on Kim Hyok Chol.
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