The French authorities have arrested a senior civil servant accusing of spying for Pyongyang and handing over sensitive information to the North Korean regime.
Benoit Quennedey, an official in the upper house Senate who heads up the Franco-Korean Friendship Association (AAFC in French), was detained by the French security services over the weekend, and is now 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 told the AFP news agency.
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 French Senate’s department of architecture, heritage and gardens, Mr Quennedey visited Pyongyang several times, meeting local officials and academics working in those fields.
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He has also written several books about North Korea and appeared on Russian broadcaster RT France as an “international affairs expert.”
His arrest and the raid of his office was first reported by the Quotidien programme of the TMC TV channel.
He 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 that he was being monitored by Seoul’s National Intelligence Service due to his North Korea-related activities.
The Senate’s presidency has declined to comment on the reports, the AFP news agency said.
Mr Quennedey is not the first foreigner to be arrested in recent years for suspect links to North Korea. Last December a man was arrested in Sydney, Australia for allegedly acting as an economic agent for the repressive regime.
Chan Han Choi, 59, was charged under the country’s 1995 Weapons of Mass Destruction (Prevention of Proliferation) Act, and accused by the police 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 makes concessions, including the easing of financial sanctions.
Pyongyang’s demands have some support from the South, according to a new report released by the National Unification Advisory in which 64% of those surveyed said that 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.
Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has previously expressed a willingness for his government to “play an active role” in negotiating denuclearisation on the Korean Peninsula.