North Korea confirmed Monday that the powerful uncle of the nation’s young leader Kim Jong-Un had been purged, accusing him of building a rival power base and being a corrupt, drug-using womaniser.
Jang Song-Thaek, once seen as the hardline regime’s political regent, has been stripped of his titles for committing criminal acts and leading a “counter-revolutionary faction”, state news agency KCNA said.
The announcement came after South Korea’s spy agency said last week that Jang had been purged and two associates executed, nearly two years after Kim Jong-Un succeeded his father Kim Jong-Il as leader in 2011.
The husband of Kim Jong-Il’s powerful sister, Kim Kyong-Hui, Jang was seen as instrumental in cementing Kim Jong-Un’s hold on power in the tricky transition period after his father’s death.
He was often referred to as the unofficial number two in the hierarchy and the real power behind the throne of Kim, who is aged around 30.
But KCNA said that at a meeting on Sunday, a top body of the ruling Workers’ Party confirmed it had “eliminated Jang and purged his group, unable to remain an onlooker to its acts any longer”, KCNA said.
In a stark warning to detractors, the regime said it removed Jang and his associates for seeking to build a faction within the party, appointing his followers to top positions in order to serve his own political ambitions.
It said Jang had had “improper relations” with women and had become “affected by the capitalist way of living”.
“Ideologically sick and extremely idle and easy-going, he used drugs and squandered foreign currency at casinos while he was receiving medical treatment in a foreign country under the care of the party,” he said.
Jang was accused him of a litany of other misdemeanours including hindering North Korea’s state-run iron and fertiliser industries by selling off its resources at cheap prices and “throwing the state financial management system into confusion”.
“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,” the report said.
“Prompted by his politically motivated ambition, he tried to increase his force and build his base… Jang and his followers committed criminal acts baffling imagination and they did tremendous harm to our party and revolution.”
Kim Jong-Un took over after his father and longtime ruler died in December 2011, in the third generational power succession of the Kim dynasty which has ruled the isolated communist state with an iron fist and under a pervasive personality cult.
Jang has fallen out of favour before. In 2004 he was understood to have undergone “re-education” as a steel mill labourer because of suspected corruption, but he made a comeback the following year.
He expanded his influence rapidly after the late Kim Jong-Il suffered a stroke in 2008 and he was appointed vice chairman of the top military body, the National Defense Commission, in 2010.
His wife, Kim Kyoung-Hui, has also long been at the centre of power. She was promoted to four-star general at the same time as Kim Jong-Un in 2010.
Speaking last week after news of the ouster emerged, Kim Yong-Hyun, a professor at Seoul’s Dongguk University, said Jang’s roles could have caused tension in the process of consolidating the new leader’s position.
“Jang once visited South Korea and witnessed many aspects of capitalist society, including the changes that have been happening in China,” he said.
“So he was the figure who was most likely to aggressively push for some reforms and opening of the North’s system.”
Several analysts suggested Jang may have lost out in a power struggle with Choe Ryong-Hae, a close Kim Jong-Un confidant who holds the military rank of vice marshal and is director of the Korean People’s Army’s General Political Department.
In May, Kim sent Choe as his personal envoy to Beijing to hand-deliver a letter to China’s new president, Xi Jinping. AFP