News outlets in Finland and abroad wrote in early July that a North Korean scientist has defected to Finland.

Lee Bong-suk, the journalist who broke the story for the South Korean news agency Yonhap, revealed to Helsingin Sanomat on Wednesday that the information presented in the report is false as it is based on misinformation obtained from a North Korean human rights organisation.

Lee told the daily that no such defection has taken place according to security authorities in South Korea.

Helsingin Sanomat sought to confirm the reported defection in July after the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Finnish Immigration Service and the Embassy of the South Korea in Helsinki all said they were unaware of it.

More on the topic:

- News agency: North Korean scientist defected to Finland

Yonhap wrote that the scientist in question was an expert in biological and chemical weapons employed at a microbiological research centre near the Chinese border. He was reportedly also set to offer his testimony about human experiments allegedly carried out by the central administration of North Korea to the European Parliament.

The mysterious scientist was reportedly a 47-year-old man named Lee. The European Parliament had not heard of his rumoured testimony, however.

The report published by Yonhap was cited by several international news outlets, such as Newsweek and The Independent.

Reports about North Korea are typically incomplete and unreliable as the nation is practically isolated from the outside world.

Jyrki Kallio, an expert in East Asia at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, says that security authorities in South Korea are the primarily source of information on North Korea. “You have to take into consideration, however, that South Korea may have its own motives. The information it provides may be biased.”

Human rights organisations are another important source of information. Both of the sources typically base their reports on the accounts of defectors.

Reports of scientists defecting from North Korea are not completely unheard of, although people in powerful positions rarely leave the country. Estimates indicate that last year alone more than one thousand people defected from North Korea.

“The North Korean elite is largely content with their living conditions,” says Kallio.

Previous reports of human experiments have similarly emerged from North Korea, again based primarily on the accounts of defectors.

Pekka Vahvanen – HS
Aleksi Teivainen – HT