Monday 23 September 2019

Top French civil servant 'spying' for North Korea

Benôit Quennedey: A senior official in the French Senate. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Benôit Quennedey: A senior official in the French Senate. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Nicola Smith in Paris

French authorities have arrested a senior civil servant, accusing him of spying for Pyongyang and handing over sensitive information to the North Korean regime.

Benôit Quennedey, an official in the upper house Senate who heads up the Franco-Korean Friendship Association (AAFC in French), was detained by security services and is being questioned by the domestic security agency, the DGSI.

He is under investigation for the suspected "collection and delivery of information to a foreign power likely to undermine the fundamental interests of the nation," a judicial source said.

On his Twitter account, Mr Quennedy declares an affiliation to a radical left group. The AAFC promotes closer ties with North Korea and supports reunification with the South.

While working for the Senate's department of architecture, heritage and gardens, Mr Quennedey visited Pyongyang several times, meeting local officials and academics working in those fields.

He has also written several books about North Korea and appeared on Russian broadcaster RT France as an "international affairs expert".

Mr Quennedey is reported to have piqued the interest of the French authorities in March of this year but, according to reports in the South Korean press, he claimed in 2014 he was being monitored by Seoul's National Intelligence Service due to his North Korea-related activities.

He is not the first foreigner to be arrested for suspected links to North Korea. Last December a man was arrested in Sydney, Australia, for allegedly acting as an economic agent for the regime.

Chan Han Choi (59) was charged under the country's 1995 Weapons of Mass Destruction (Prevention of Proliferation) Act, and accused of having contact with senior North Korean officials.

The French arrest comes at a time when talks between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled over the lack of progress towards the regime's nuclear disarmament. North Korea has refused to move forward with negotiations until the US eases financial sanctions.

Pyongyang's demands have some support from the South according to a new report released by the National Unification Advisory in which 64pc of those surveyed said sanctions should be loosened.

The French government does not maintain diplomatic relations with Pyongyang, but has a French Cooperation Office in North Korea, tasked with promoting humanitarian and cultural activities.

President Emmanuel Macron has expressed a willingness to "play an active role" in negotiating denuclearisation on the Korean Peninsula. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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