Spain has issued at least two international arrest warrants for members of a self-proclaimed human rights group who last month allegedly led a mysterious raid at the North Korean embassy in Madrid and offered the FBI stolen data from the break-in.
A Spanish National Court judge who on Tuesday lifted a secrecy order in the case said an investigation of the Feb. 22 attack uncovered evidence that “a criminal organization” shackled and gagged embassy staff members before escaping with computers, hard drives and documents.
The intruders also urged North Korea’s only accredited diplomat in Spain, business envoy So Yun-sok, to defect, Judge Jose de la Mata said in a written report on the investigation.
The report says So refused to do so and was gagged.
The assailants identified themselves as “members of an association or movement of human rights for the liberation of North Korea,” the report said.
That group is the Cheollima Civil Defense, a US official said on condition of anonymity.
The secretive group has the self-declared mission of helping defectors from North Korea.
De la Mata named Adrian Hong Chang, a Mexican citizen living in the US, as the break-in’s leader.
Hong Chang flew to the US on Feb. 23, got in touch with the FBI and offered to share material and videos with federal investigators, the court report says.
The document did not say what type of information the items contained or whether the FBI accepted the offer.
The FBI said in a statement that its standard practice is to neither confirm nor deny the existence of investigations, adding that “the FBI enjoys a strong working relationship with our Spanish law enforcement partners.”
Spanish police learned about the break-in after the wife of an embassy employee escaped by jumping from a window. When officers went to check on the situation, Hong Chang allegedly greeted them at the door and pretended to be a diplomatic official, the investigation found.
He sent the officers away with assurances everything was fine, paving the way for the invading group to make a getaway in the embassy’s cars.
The timing of the incident, which happened less than a week before a high-stakes US-North Korea summit on denuclearization derailed in Hanoi on Feb. 28, led to speculation that the incursion was carried out to obtain data related to North Korea’s former ambassador to Spain.
Kim Hyok-chol, who was expelled from Spain in September 2017 following Pyongyang’s sixth nuclear test and its missile launches over Japan, has become North Korea’s top nuclear negotiator with the US.
Asked if Washington had any connection to the embassy break-in, US Department of State spokesman Robert Palladino said: “The United States government had nothing to do with this.”
Last week, the rights group that allegedly led the attack posted a short video on its Web site that reportedly showed a man shattering portraits of former North Korean leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il on the floor.
The group said that the video was filmed recently “on our homeland’s soil,” wording that would accurately apply to the North Korean embassy in Madrid.
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