French Senate official arrested on charges of spying for North Korea

AFP , Tuesday 27 Nov 2018

File Photo: The Demilitarized Zone, seen here from South Korea, separates the isolated nation of North Korea from its neighbor. (AFP)

Intelligence agencies have arrested a senior French civil servant who worked at the French Senate on suspicion of passing confidential information to the dictatorial regime of North Korea, a judicial source told AFP.

Benoit Quennedey, who is also the president of the Franco-Korean Friendship Association and has written a book on the isolated nation, was taken into custody late Monday, the source in Paris said.

After an inquiry which began in March, prosecutors suspect him of the "collection and delivery of information to a foreign power likely to undermine the fundamental interests of the nation", the source said.

Quennedey is being held at the headquarters of France's DGSI domestic intelligence agency outside Paris.

The French news and talk show Le Quotidien, which first reported the story, said he was arrested at his home and his Senate office had been searched.

According to the Senate website, Quennedey is a senior administrator in France's upper house of parliament in the department of architecture, heritage and gardens, in charge of administration and finances.

The office of the Senate president, Gerard Larcher, declined to comment.

Quennedey has written frequent articles on North Korea and travelled extensively throughout the peninsula since 2005, according to the website of his publisher Delga.

Last year Delga published Quennedey's latest work, "North Korea, The Unknown."

The Franco-Korean Friendship Association, formed in the late 1960s by journalists sympathetic to Socialist and Communist causes, pushes for closer ties with Pyongyang and supports the reunification of the divided Koreas.

Quennedey attended France's elite Sciences Po university as well as the ENA school which produces its top civil servants and political leaders.

In 2013 he wrote "North Korea's Economy: Birth of a New Asian Dragon?", despite years of strict international sanctions aimed at forcing the country to abandon its nuclear missile programme.

In regular interviews with RT France, part of Moscow's Russia Today network, Quennedey is presented as an "expert in international relations" and comments on Korean relations and other subjects.

North Korea has been a pariah of the international community for decades over its refusal to give up its nuclear weapons programme.

Sanctions have crippled its economy, and the UN estimates that some 10.3 million people, or 41 percent of North Korea's population, are undernourished -- even as neighbouring South Korea's economy flourishes.

But hopes of a breakthrough were sparked last June when US President Donald Trump met with regime leader Kim Jong Un for a historic summit meeting in Singapore, when both men vowed to improve relations and Kim indicated he would abandon the nuclear work.

But progress since then has been patchy, and Washington is still pushing to maintain sanctions until Pyongyang's "final, fully verified denuclearisation".

Researchers have accused the regime of using undeclared bases to hide nuclear-capable missiles, while Pyongyang's state media reported this month that the country had developed an unspecified "ultramodern tactical weapon".

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