Corruption purge in North as virus is guarded against

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Corruption purge in North as virus is guarded against

North Korean state media on Monday publicly warned officials across the country against corruption, days after leader Kim Jong-un dismissed the No. 2 figure in the ruling Workers’ Party for “acts alien to the party.”

The Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the party, urged officials in an English-language editorial to “work in a prospective way” toward the future of the revolution.

“It is a strategic and political insight and obligation of officials that they readily accept anything if it fully accords with state interests though small interests are allotted to their units,” the editorial read.

The Korean-language version of the commentary specifically referred to an enlarged meeting of the Political Bureau of the Workers’ Party Central Committee held Saturday, presided over by Kim, in which two party vice chairmen - Ri Man-gon and Pak Thae-dok - were sacked from their posts.

Ri Man-gon was also the director of the Organization and Guidance Department, an agency within the Workers’ Party believed to be one of the most powerful policy-making bodies within the regime with control over party appointments.

While no reasons were given for Ri’s and Pak’s dismissal, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), a regime mouthpiece, said the meeting also “adopted a decision to disband the party committee of the Party cadre training base which was involved in the practices of corruption and irregularities,” suggesting the two figures were linked to corruption in an organization used to train elite cadres.

“At the enlarged meeting acts alien to the party, abuse of power, practices of privileges, indulgence in bureaucracy, corruption and irregularities revealed among senior officials of the Party Central Committee and officials of the Party cadre training institution were harshly criticized and their gravity and consequences were sharply analyzed,” KCNA reported.

This is the first time North Korea has dismissed high-ranking party officials for corruption since Kim’s uncle and political mentor, Jang Song-thaek, was purged in December 2013 and executed shortly afterwards.

After doling out punishment to the officials, Kim called on “all the Party officials and organizations to draw a serious lesson from the recent incident,” KCNA said.

This unusually strict response to corrupt practices by officials suggests that Kim is trying step up internal discipline among the elite as his cash-strapped regime navigates a possible crisis with the global coronavirus outbreak.

Saturday’s meeting heavily focused on measures to combat the novel coronavirus from China, which over the last month engulfed South Korea and yielded thousands of new infections.

The Rodong Sinmun on Monday repeated the regime’s official position by claiming North Korea had no confirmed cases among its citizens.

State organs and media, however, have been keenly promoting quarantine and sanitary measures to combat the virus.

On Sunday, the Rodong Sinmun reported that a total of 3,920 people who visited foreign countries or had irregular symptoms were placed under “medical observation” in South Pyongan and Kangwon provinces. Last week, state radio reported that around 3,000 people were placed under quarantine in North Pyongan Province, in addition to 380 foreigners in the country.

“No special cases must be allowed within the state anti-epidemic system,” Kim said at the party meeting on Saturday.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]

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