North Korea yesterday excoriated Jang Song-thaek, the uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, for what it described as a slew of criminal acts, confirming the spectacular downfall of the once second-most powerful man in the reclusive state.
The dismissal of Jang for mismanaging the economy, corruption, womanizing and drug-taking comes after South Korean media reports that one of his aides has sought asylum in South Korea.
The unidentified aide, who managed funds for Jang, was being protected by South Korean officials in a secret location in China, cable news network YTN and the Kyunghyang Shinmun newspaper said on Friday last week, citing sources familiar with the matter.
Jang was removed from all his posts and expelled from the ruling Workers’ Party during a meeting of its politburo on Sunday, the North’s official KCNA news agency said.
Kim attended and “guided” the meeting, it said.
North Korean state television showed a still photograph of Jang being hauled away by uniformed guards from a large conference hall as it reported on the politburo meeting.
Kim’s uncle has also been airbrushed out of pictures and video footage and experts said his name was no longer searchable on the KCNA database.
“Jang and his followers committed criminal acts baffling imagination and they did tremendous harm to our party and revolution,” KCNA said, without saying if Jang had been detained or charged with any crime.
The report also did not refer to Jang’s aide, whose defection, if confirmed, would be the most serious for North Korea in 15 years.
The decision to remove Jang was widely reported in North Korea’s media including on the front page of the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper yesterday, in contrast to the dismissal of officials in the past which were almost never reported.
The Rodong Sinmun carried a picture of what it said was the politburo meeting. Jang and Kim Kyong-hui, Jang’s wife and aunt to the young leader, were among 17 politburo members. Neither could be seen in the photograph.
However, Kim Jong-un’s aunt, the daughter of North Korean founding leader Kim Il-sung, was not in trouble, a source with close ties to Pyongyang said.
Last week, a South Korean official said Jang was likely alive and in no immediate phys ical danger, as was his wife.
The South Korean National Intelligence Service last week said it believed Jang had been relieved of his posts last month. It also said two of Jang’s close associates were executed recently for corruption.
The firing means Pyongyang is undergoing its biggest leadership upheaval since the death in 2011 of former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un’s father.
Among Jang’s senior party and military posts, he was vice chairman of the country’s top military body, the National Defense Commission.
Jang had close ties to China and visited Beijing last year on behalf of Kim Jong-un. He was also head of the North Korean side of a joint project managing a special economic zone with Beijing.
KCNA listed a series of reasons why Jang was dismissed, including mismanagement of the country’s financial system, corruption, womanizing and abusing alcohol and drugs.
“Jang pretended to uphold the party and leader, but was engrossed in such factional acts as dreaming different dreams and involving himself in double-dealing behind the scene,” KCNA said. “Affected by the capitalist way of living, Jang committed irregularities and corruption and led a dissolute and depraved life.”
Experts say Jang’s removal will help Kim Jong-un consolidate his power base with a group of younger aides. Until he was fired, Jang was widely considered to be working to ensure his nephew firmly established his grip on power in the past two years.