A SPANISH political activist in league with the brutal North Korean dictatorship has been arrested in Tarragona for alleged arms trafficking offences.
Alejandro Cao de Benos is a frequent visitor to the secretive totalitarian state and is often accused of collaborating with the regime to the detriment of free speech and peace efforts.
The 42-year-old from Barcelona was apprehended in a Guardia Civil operation just hours after giving headline grabbing media interviews where he described North Koreans as the ‘Latinos of Asia’.
Police has thus far offered no comment on the circumstances surrounding Cao de Benos’ arrest, nor whether his alleged crimes are connected to his self-described role as ‘honorary special delegate for the DPRK’s Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries’.
A regular traveller to Pyongyang, where he is reportedly warmly welcomed, Cao de Benos has a long-standing involvement with the isolated country, technically still in a state of war with its southern neighbour.
He founded the Korean Friendship Association in 2000 where he sells North Korean music and memorabilia, with the goods sent from his base in Spain. He has a role in the country acting as an intermediary and translator for foreign press and businesses and has attracted heavy criticism for his toeing of the party line in articles and interviews.
Thought to be the only westerner working for the regime, which is built around a personality cult of deceased supreme leader Kim Il-sung and his ruling dynasty, Cao de Benos has been accused of intimidating journalists critical of the government.
In 2004 it is alleged that he broke into an ABC news journalist’s Pyongyang hotel room, searched and confiscated his tapes, and forced him to apologise for using sensationalist language in order to leave the country.
Widely considered the world’s most secretive nation, the ethnically homogenous state was established in the aftermath of the Second World War under Soviet occupation. A bloody war ground to a stalemate in 1953 and, in the ensuing decades, the regime has tightened its grip on the population amid widespread allegations of systematic forced labour, brainwashing, torture, and starvation.