|North Korean leader Kim Jong-un presides a key meeting of the Workers` Party on Sunday. (Yonhap News)|
After the ouster of Jang Song-thaek, the once-powerful uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, a host of his confidants and associates are thought to have been purged or fled the country.
Ri Su-yong, Pyongyang’s former ambassador to Switzerland and key manager of the reclusive regime’s overseas funds, appears to be among them.
Japan’s daily Mainichi Shimbun has reported, citing multiple sources close to the North Korean leadership, that Ri was executed for crimes in connection with Jang, who was purged on Sunday for “anti-party and anti-revolutionary activities” and corruption.
Ri, who was appointed envoy to Switzerland in 1988, managed North Korea’s secret funds amounting to about $4 billion. While in Switzerland, Ri also served as a guardian of the current North Korean leader who studied there.
After returning home in 2010, Ri became one of the core officials in charge of attracting foreign investment from the outside world, particularly from China. Since late 2011, Ri worked as a senior member of the party’s administration division, which was headed by Jang.
Seoul officials doubted the report about Ri’s fate, saying that Ri was seen attending a politburo meeting of the Central Committee of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party on Sunday. In a scene broadcast by the Korean Central TV on Monday, Ri was seen watching Jang being arrested by security officials during the meeting.
“Ri is highly likely to have attended the meeting. The rumors that he was executed are unreliable,” a Seoul official told reporters.
A recent series of news reports also raised the possibility that many of high-level officials with ties to Jang have been purged. They said the officials, who had been in touch with Chinese officials, went out of contact.
Local media also reported that one senior military official, who belonged to Jang’s administration division in the Workers’ Party, fled the country in October to seek political asylum.
The official is thought to have been in charge of maintaining North Korea’s financial issues in China and Hong Kong. Some reports claim that he defected from the North with documents concerning the communist state’s controversial nuclear program.
Some observers said more people affiliated with Jang could opt to flee the country as the North Korean leader is pushing to purge anyone connected to the disgraced North Korean elite.
Since marrying the daughter of late former North Korean leader and national founder Kim Il-sung in the early 1970s, Jang has accumulated a considerable clout in the ruling party, military and government organs, thus establishing a huge network of people.
Analysts presume that there could be tens of thousands of people linked to Jang in North Korean society.
Meanwhile, the North Korean leader has sent a message to express gratitude to hospital officials in Pyongyang for treating soldiers, the North‘s state-run radio reported Wednesday.
It was the first public activity of Kim following the purge of his uncle Jang. Observers say that his thank-you message appears aimed at dispelling any concerns that the ouster of Jang could negatively influence his state management.
By Song Sang-ho