North Korean state media have said that Alek Sigley, a student and tour guide based in the DPRK, was caught spying prior to his expulsion.
Last week, Travel Weekly reported Sigley had been confirmed “safe and well” by Prime Minister Scott Morrison. It was revealed that Sigley had been detained in North Korea and released in China, following a meeting between a special envoy of Swedish and North Korean authorities.
But, following his release, state media from North Korea have said that Sigley was caught “red handed” by a “relevant” North Korean insitution on 25 June, as reported by ABC News. It was also alleged that he had abused his status as a student, and collected data and photographs that were dispersed to “anti-DPRK” media.
The newsagency said that Sigley had admitted to spying and that he had asked for a pardon; he was then expelled from the country out of “humanitarian leniency”.
“He honestly admitted his spying acts of systematically collecting and offering data about the domestic situation of the DPRK and repeatedly asked for pardon, apologising for encroachment upon the sovereignty of the DPRK,” the agency said, as reported by ABC News.
After arriving in China, Sigley flew to Japan to join his wife, where he issued a written statement thanking everyone for their support.
“I just want everyone to know I am OK, and to thank them for their concern for my wellbeing and their support for my family over the past week,” he said in a statement obtained by ABC News.
“I intend now to return to normal life but wanted to first publicly thank everyone who worked to ensure I was safe and well.”
He urged the media to respect his privacy as he and his family returned to everyday life; Sigley said he would not be offering further comment “at this time”.
Australian observers have dismissed claims Sigley was a spy and have said that he was granted enormous freedoms to share information about the repressive nation.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that his detention may have had more to do with talks between North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and United States President Donald Trump, which were held at the “truce village” of Panmunjom on the border of North and South Korea on 30 June.
Smartraveller currently advises travellers against visiting the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, owing to the country’s “very different laws and regulations affecting foreign visitors” and “the risks from intermittent DPRK threats against international interests.”