December 8, 2013
North Korea Releases List of Accusations Against Purged Official
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea confirmed on Monday that Jang Song-thaek, the uncle of Kim Jong-un, the country’s top leader, had been stripped of all titles of power and expelled from the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea. Mr. Jang is the most prominent figure to be purged since Mr. Kim took power two years ago.
Moving swiftly to consolidate his authority, Mr. Kim presided over an extended meeting of the Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee on Sunday, which formalized the sidelining of Mr. Jang, 67, who had been considered the second most powerful person in North Korea after Mr. Kim.
A number of Mr. Jang’s associates also were purged, according to a lengthy report by the state-run Korea Central News Agency, which called them “a modern-day faction” and “undesirable elements who happened to worm their ways into our party ranks.” Mr. Jang and his “group” were accused of committing “such anti-party, counterrevolutionary factional acts as expanding their forces through factional moves” and “attempting to undermine the unitary leadership of the party.”
South Korean intelligence officials said the language in the report was a signal that Mr. Kim, who is 30, was uprooting a wide network of protégés Mr. Jang had placed in party and military posts, and doing it in a way that was meant to send a strong signal to others in the country’s elite that he is firmly in charge. The said that other Central Committee members, representatives from provincial party committees and the People’s Army attended the meeting as observers.
Mr. Kim’s two years in power have been marked by a series of demotions, promotions and purges of top party and military figures, a tactic that was also used by his two predecessors — Kim Jong-il, his father and Mr. Jang’s brother in law, and Kim Il-sung, Mr. Kim’s grandfather and the founding president of North Korea. But it is highly unusual for the country to publicize its internal political machinations by holding an extended party meeting and announcing its results publicly.
The Korean news report said that speakers at the meeting criticized the Jang group “in unison” and “expressed their firm resolution to remain true to the idea and leadership of Kim Jong-un.” Anyone who impedes his authority will never be pardoned, “regardless of his or her position and merits,” it said.
Mr. Jang and his wife, Kim Kyong-hee, Kim Jong-il’s sister, were widely thought to be acting as regents for their nephew, helping him establish his leadership after Kim Jong-il’s death in December 2011. Mr. Jang held a series of influential titles in agencies of power headed by Mr. Kim, including a seat on the Political Bureau and vice chairmanships of the Central Military Commission and the top government organ, the National Defense Commission.
South Korean officials who have met Mr. Jang and analysts who follow developments in the North differ in assessing Mr. Jang. Some called him an ambitious machine politician who built his own power base while helping his inexperienced nephew, setting the stage for Mr. Kim to eventually see him as a challenge to his monopoly of authority. Others said Mr. Jang was easygoing, a hard drinker, and keenly aware that his position was precarious in a totalitarian state where all agencies of power compete to demonstrate loyalty to the top leader, often by plotting against one another.
The K.C.N.A. dispatch attributed a litany of “crimes” to Mr. Jang and his associates.
It said they did “enormous harm” by “throwing the state financial management system into confusion and committing such acts of treachery as selling off precious resources of the country at cheap prices.” Mr. Kim had earlier complained that his country was squandering its iron ore and other resources by selling them cheaply to China, as the North struggled to obtain hard currency under the tightened United Nations sanctions that following its missile and nuclear tests.
It also accused Mr. Jang of personal failings. “Affected by the capitalist way of living, Jang committed irregularities and corruption and led a dissolute and depraved life,” the dispatch said, including “improper relations with several women,” and being “wined and dined at back parlors of deluxe restaurants.” It accused him of taking advantage of a trip abroad for medical treatment to use drugs and gamble at the party’s expense.
The news of Mr. Jang’s fall from grace emerged last week from a parliamentary briefing by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, which specializes in spying on the North. It told lawmakers that two of Mr. Jang’s most trusted aides were executed for corruption, and that two of Mr. Jang’s relatives who were serving as North Korean ambassadors were recalled.
The spy agency has often been criticized for being in the dark about big developments in the North — it did not know that Kim Jong-il had died until the news was announced on North Korean television — so the confirmation of Mr. Jang’s ouster was seen as aiding the agency’s credibility.