SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA
North Korea today acknowledged the purge of leader Kim Jong Un’s influential uncle for purported corruption, drug use, gambling and a long list of other “anti-state” acts, apparently ending the career of the country’s second most powerful official.
The young North Korean leader will now rule without the relative long considered his mentor as he consolidated power after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, two years ago. Jang Song Thaek’s fall from the leadership, detailed in a lengthy dispatch by state media, is the latest and most significant in a series of personnel reshuffles that Kim has conducted in an apparent effort to bolster his power.
Some analysts see the purge as a sign of Kim Jong Un’s growing confidence, but there has also been fear in Seoul that the removal of such an important part of the North’s government — seen by outsiders as the leading supporter of Chinese-style economic reforms — could create dangerous instability or lead to a major miscalculation or attack on the South.
Tensions are still high on the Korean Peninsula following a torrent of threats in March and April by Kim Jong Un’s government against Washington, Seoul and Tokyo, including vows of missile and nuclear strikes and warnings that Pyongyang would restart nuclear bomb fuel production.
South Korean intelligence officials said days ago that a purge was likely because two of Jang’s aides had been executed last month for corruption. A recent state documentary in the North had all images of Jang removed.
Jang — who is married to Kim Jong Un’s aunt, Kim Kyong Hui, the younger sister of Kim Jong Il — was described by state media as “abusing his power,” being “engrossed in irregularities and corruption,” and taking drugs and squandering money at casinos while undergoing medical treatment in a foreign country. The dispatch also said he had “improper relations with several women and was wined and dined at back parlors of deluxe restaurants.”