North confirms Jang’s downfall

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North confirms Jang’s downfall

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Pyongyang’s state-run Korean Central Television yesterday aired photos of Jang Song-thaek, considered the political protector of Kim Jong-un in his first months in power, surrounded by military officials who seemed to be arresting him during a senior party meeting held Sunday. [Screen capture from KoreanCentral Television]

North Korea’s state media released photos of leader Kim Jong-un’s uncle, Jang Song-thaek, being arrested at a party meeting that officially decided to purge the second-most powerful man in the country.

It also released a vivid, detailed account of Jang’s alleged crimes, which ran the gamut from political treachery to partying too hard.

The regime’s official Korean Central Television yesterday released photos of Jang, considered the political protector of Kim Jong-un in his first months in power, surrounded by military officials who seem to be arresting him during a senior party meeting held Sunday.

The Korean Central News Agency reported yesterday that at the meeting, dubbed “an enlarged meeting of the Political Bureau of the ruling party’s Central Auditing Commission,” Kim and ruling party officials officially decided to “remove” Jang from politics and “purge his group,” calling them “anti-party, anti-revolution, factional elements.”

The four-page KCNA report gave a detailed explanation of Jang’s misdeeds, which included pretending to obey Kim Jong-un’s orders in front of him but creating his own political circle behind the scenes, a grave threat to the “sole leadership system” of Kim Jong-un.

Jang is married to Kim Kyong-hui, Kim’s aunt and the younger sister of his father, former leader Kim Jong-il.

“Jang Song-thaek and his followers did not sincerely accept the party’s vision and policies,” KCNA said. “They publicly implemented policies against orders from the party and even committed anti-revolution activities disobeying orders from the DPRK’s Supreme Commander [Kim Jong-un].”

Jang exercised too much control over several organizations, economic policies and the regime’s state-run businesses, KCNA said.

“They have weakened the control of the party over the prosecution and other security agencies,” the report said, “violating the principle of the ruling party that puts the cabinet at the center [of policy making].”

It accused Jang and his group of dominating the machinery of the state responsible for the country’s economy.Jang also “caused confusion in the state monetary system and sold the country’s precious natural resources at a cheap price,” KCNA said.

His personal life was also corrupt, KCNA said, “affected by the capitalist lifestyle.” He “abused his power for corrupt acts,” had “inappropriate relations with lots of women,” “hosted drinking parties and soirees at luxury restaurants,” used drugs and “lavished the state’s foreign currency on gambling.”

Party officials adopted a resolution to punish Jang at the meeting, KCNA said, stripping him of all of his positions and titles and expelling him from the party.

Whether Jang was executed after the apparent arrest is not known, according to Kim Eui-do, spokesman of the Ministry of Unification, at a briefing yesterday.

It is unusual for North Korea to give such a long and detailed report on the purge of an official, a South Korean government official told reporters.

“In the entire history of the Kim dynasty, it is very rare that North Korea officially confirms the dismissal of a figure,” the official said at a closed-door briefing yesterday. “It is also rare for the ruling Workers’ Party to hold such a meeting in the name of the Political Bureau, which was never held under the rule of Kim Jong-il.”

When North Korea dismissed the former chief of the general staff of the army, Ri Yong-ho, it only said it was for “personal reasons.” The exact reasons for Jang’s purge are not known.

“To establish the sole leadership of Kim Jong-un and consolidate his rule, the regime appears to be showing that they won’t forgive any challenger, even if it is Jang Song-thaek,” the official said.

Another South Korean government official told the JoongAng Ilbo that there could be a massive reshuffle if all of Jang’s loyalists are purged.

“Jang’s influence in North Korea is much more powerful than even we assumed,” the official said. “His loyalists were in a wide range of positions, from a joint investment committee for attracting foreign investment and developing the economy to the military, so it is inevitable that they be replaced.”

Jang’s wife, Kim Kyong-hui, can no longer protect her husband, said Representative Yoon Sang-hyun, South Korea’s ruling Saenuri Party lawmaker who is a member of the National Assembly’s Intelligence Committee.

“As far as we know, the couple is now separated,” Yoon said. “It is not a situation that Kim Kyong-hui can come forward [to help Jang] anymore. She tried to scrap the plan for purging Jang but failed.”

The lawmaker claimed that two aides of Jang who were executed “had conflicts with other organizations while they were working on some foreign currency business and other profitable businesses. Kim Jong-un ordered Kim Won-hong, minister of state security, to launch a secret investigation into them and publicly execute them.”

Yoon denied the allegation that Choe Ryong-hae, the top military official, trumped Jang in a power struggle and would rise as the regime’s No. 2.

“Choe doesn’t have much power, not even half of Jang’s,” Yoon said. “It’s not that kind of power struggle.”

Under the founding leader Kim Il Sung and his son and successor Kim Jong-il, politicians were purged to solidify their dictatorship. In August 1956, the ruling Workers’ Party held a meeting to announce its decision to purge several officials, including Choe Chang-ik and Pak Chang-ok, calling them “anti-party, anti-revolutionary factional elements,” the same charges leveled against Jang Song-thaek. At the time, the party said they complained about Kim Il Sung’s dictatorship and plotted a rebellion against him.

In 1997, as soon as the official three-year mourning period for Kim Il Sung was over, Kim Jong-il executed a party secretary in charge of agricultural policies, So Kwan-hui, on charges of anti-state espionage. He also executed about 20,000 officials and their families who were accused of being anti-socialist. Analysts believed he needed to consolidate his rule during the devastating famines of the 1990s.

With Jang’s purge, one of the figures expected to follow is Ji Jae-ryong, the North Korean ambassador to China.

Ji is known as a loyal follower of Jang. Reportedly, Ji was also purged in 2004 along with Jang on charges of “factional activities” but returned to favor with him in 2006.

“Several powerful figures who were close to Jang Song-thaek are expected to be hit, and Ji Jae-ryong is one of them,” Cheong Seong-chang, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute, wrote in an online column. “But in North Korean diplomacy, ties with China are the most important, so the North Korean leadership may be mulling how to deal with the fate of its ambassador.”


BY KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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