North Korean defector likely to be three-time silver medallist in maths olympiad

Jong Yol Ri’s photo was sent to a Whatsapp chat group made up of event’s student aides to seek help in finding him a day after the full N Korean delegation was last seen at the closing ceremony in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 July, 2016, 8:56pm
UPDATED : Friday, 29 July, 2016, 11:53pm

The North Korean defector who mysteriously snuck away during an international mathematics contest in Hong Kong is believed to be Jong Yol Ri, a three-time silver medallist at the annual competition, the South China Morning Post has learnt.

A photo of Jong, which the Post has obtained, was sent to a Whatsapp chat group of some 100 university students helping at the 57th International Mathematical Olympiad at about 1pm on July 16 – a day after the team of six North Korean students were last seen at the event’s closing ceremony.

They were asked to look for the maths whiz, who won his third silver medal at this year’s event, a source close to the matter told the Post. At the time, the student helpers were escorting the 500-odd contestants from 109 countries to their buses at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology in Sai Kung, a fairly remote area.

Teenage defector’s disappearance set off alarm bells among North Korean student delegation to Hong Kong math contest

No one responded to the message, the source said.

CCTV footage from the university is understood to show a student leaving the campus alone.

It is believed that subsequently, a defector sought refuge at the local South Korean Consulate General, more than 20km away, as the North Korean delegation left with one member short and flew back to Pyongyang via the mainland on July 19.

News of the apparent defection was leaked on Wednesday. Contrary to an earlier report that the North Korean delegation stayed at Chungking Mansions in Tsim Sha Tsui, it has emerged that the students and two teachers who accompanied them stayed in the student halls of the university.

Three team members – ­Myonghyok Ri, Kum Song Jon and Jong – had previously travelled overseas to compete in the annual tournament, while Il Jin Kim, Un Song Choe and Yu Song Han were first-timers. Jong took part in the 2014 contest in Cape Town, South Africa, and last year’s in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

A fellow student who competed in the contest told the Post the delegation from the hermit state, which came sixth in the contest, was mostly a quiet pack. But, he added, some were spotted socialising at a farewell meet-up on the night of July 15 after the closing ceremony. Another source said the North Koreans were friendly and spoke fluent English.

The students the Post spoke to said they were not aware a student had gone missing at the time.

Yesterday, security at South Korea’s outpost at the Far East Finance Centre was still tight, with police officers present on standby. The Consulate General remained tight-lipped, saying it was the South Korean government’s position that it would not confirm anything about the defector.

North Korean Defectors Concern group founder Lau Kwun-hang urged Beijing, a signatory to the United Nation’s Refugee Convention, not to repatriate the defector on humanitarian grounds.