Written by Raphael Minder
In one of the strangest international incidents in memory, an armed group attacked the North Korean Embassy in Madrid last month and then fled. Neighbors reported hearing a woman’s screams, but the embassy did not want to discuss the events with the Spanish police.
On Tuesday, the story got even stranger. A Mexican man who lives in the United States led the raid, and later offered material stolen from the embassy to the FBI, a Spanish judge investigating the case said.
In a summary of his investigation, José de la Mata, a judge of Spain’s national court, identified the leader of the gang as Adrian Hong Chang, who he said had escaped, through Portugal, to the United States. An American citizen, identified as Sam Ruy, was also involved in the February 22 assault, he said.
De la Mata described how Hong Chang approached the embassy in the middle of the afternoon, asking to speak with Yun Sok So, an official in its economics department.
He used a false business card, identifying himself as Matthew Chao, a “managing partner” in a firm he called Baron Stone Capital. Hong Chang and nine others then attacked the embassy employees with knives, machetes, metal bars and fake pellet guns, all of it acquired in Madrid in the days before, the judge said.
The North Korean economics official suffered “several injuries” during the assault, according to the judge’s report. While attacking him, the assailants tried to persuade the official to abandon his country, the judge said. They told him they were “members of an association or movement for human rights for the liberation of North Korea,” according to the judge’s report.
The group held embassy employees hostage, some with their hands tied behind their back and a bag placed over their heads. The assailants escaped from the compound about five hours later, using three vehicles stolen from the embassy, the judge reported.
Hong Chang left for Lisbon, Portugal, and then boarded a plane to Newark Liberty International Airport, where he landed Feb. 23, according to de la Mata. He said Hong Chang got in touch with the FBI and offered to share “audiovisual material” obtained during the embassy attack.
In a statement, the FBI said: “It is our standard practice to neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation.”
Lee Wolosky, a former national security and State Department official in several recent U.S. administrations, said he had been retained as legal counsel by the group, which he said is called the Provisional Government of Free Joseon or Cheollima Civil Defense.
“Many of the assertions of Judge de la Mata, as reported in the media, are inaccurate and uninformed,” Woloksy said, adding that the group helps people who are trying to flee North Korea.
Last month, officials said they were alerted to the attack by people who heard a woman in the embassy screaming. El Confidencial, a Spanish news site, said a woman was later treated for minor injuries, and told police that a gang had detained people in the embassy and had stolen computers.
But when officers rang the embassy’s doorbell, a North Korean official initially told them that nothing unusual had occurred. Later, the embassy allowed police into the compound, and Spanish authorities opened an investigation.
The judge released the report Tuesday after lifting a secrecy order on his investigation. As a preliminary assessment, he wrote that the assault could warrant charges on several grounds, including illegal detention, theft using violence, and membership in a criminal organization.