(Adds comments, background)
By Ju-min Park and James Pearson
SEOUL Aug 29 A senior North Korean banking
official who managed money for leader Kim Jong Un has defected
in Russia and was seeking asylum in a third country, a South
Korean newspaper reported on Friday, citing an unidentified
Yun Tae Hyong, a senior representative of North Korea's
Korea Daesong Bank, disappeared last week in Nakhodka, in the
Russian Far East, with $5 million, the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper
The Daesong Bank is suspected by the U.S. government of
being under the control of the North Korean government's Office
39, which is widely believed to finance illicit activities,
including the procurement of luxury goods which are banned under
The bank was blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury Department in
The newspaper said North Korea had asked Russian authorities
for cooperation in efforts to capture Yun.
It was not clear how Yun travelled to Russia or what he was
doing before he defected. Russia and North Korea share a 17-km
(10.5 miles) land border.
South Korea's Unification Ministry, which handles
inter-Korean relations, told Reuters it had no knowledge of the
Kim Jong Un, in his early 30s, came to power in December
2011 when his father, Kim Jong Il, died of a heart attack,
leaving him little time to consolidate his powerbase and prepare
Experts are divided as to whether Kim has managed to exert
full control over a country in which he sits at the centre of a
leadership cult devoted to his father and grandfather.
Kim's uncle, Jang Song Thaek, who was also involved in the
operation of Office 39, was purged in December last year, along
with an unknown number of officials connected to him and his
If Yun had indeed defected, he would not necessarily have
extensive information on the regime given the compartmentalised
way that North Korea functions, said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea
leadership expert at Dongguk University in Seoul.
"(Officials) are only able to know about their work and
commitments. It is hard to know something big beyond that in
North Korea," he said.
Korea Daesong Bank is focused on foreign exchange
transactions and was set up in 1978 to handle payments by North
Korean trading firms, according to the South Korean Unification
In 2005, $25 million of North Korea's cash was frozen at
Macau-based Banco Delta Asia, which the U.S. Treasury said North
Korea used for illicit activities.
That case stands as practically the only public success in
seizing funds from the isolated country.
(Editing by Tony Munroe, Robert Birsel)