North Korea: First Kim Jong-un orders execution of uncle - now it emerges that victim's wife was involved in decision to execute him

Kim Jong Un's powerful uncle branded 'traitor for all ages'

He was a key member of North Korea's first family, a man widely seen as regent to leader Kim Jong-un, but in a dramatic twist worthy of an episode of crime series The Sopranos, the instigators of Jang Song Thaek's execution may have included his wife.

The final decision to execute Jang, last seen publicly being frog-marched by armed guards from a special party session last week, was probably made by Kim, his nephew, and Kim Kyong-hui, his wife, according to several sources.

News of Jang's execution was accompanied by a string of extraordinary insults, branding him a "traitor for all ages" and "despicable human scum" who was "worse than a dog."  A 2,700-word state media report of his trial in a special military tribunal on Thursday said he had admitted to plotting insurrection and a string of other crimes.

"He let the decadent capitalist lifestyle find its way to our society by distributing all sorts of pornographic pictures among his confidants since 2009." The report said Jang led a "dissolute, depraved life" and had squandered at least 4.6 million euro from state coffers on gambling. He was executed, probably by firing squad, immediately after the tribunal.

Jang's killing is the highest-level purge since Kim Jong-un inherited power from his father Kim Jong-il in 2011 and has left opinion divided on what it means.  Many experts say Kim had no choice but to remove his powerful but corrupt uncle if he wanted to graduate from young pretender to dictator    "He had to go," says veteran Pyongyang watcher Andrei Lankov.  "To really start running the country Kim must get rid of the old guard.  They are so much older; they are in their sixties and seventies and he is in his thirties."

But even if Jang's removal was operationally logical, the violence of his public humiliation and disposal was highly unusual, accepts Lankov. "One possibility is that he wanted to terrify everyone, to show that he is young but someone to be afraid of, to show that nobody is immune," he says.  "It might also reflect his personal animosity to Jang. He did not like the man, who probably bossed him around."

South Korea fears Jang's ouster could trigger political turmoil and a wave of defections by some of the thousands of loyal cronies he brought onside since marrying the daughter of state founder Kim il-Song in 1972.  The Chosun Ilbo newspaper says US and Chinese spy agencies are "racing to recruit" a senior confident of Jang's who has already fled the Pyongyang.

Jang was intermittently at the center of power in North Korea. He is widely thought to have been purged by his brother-in-law, Kim Jong-il from 2004-6 - punishment for flaunting his opulent cadre's lifestyle.  As Kim's health ebbed before his death in 2011, he began leaning on trusted family members - his sister, son and brother-in-law - during the transfer of hereditary power to his 28-year-old son. 

But Jang was always handicapped by his lack of blood ties to the first family, says the North Korea Strategic Information Service Centre, an organisation run by elite defectors from the North's government.  "The key to succession" in the North is the Kim bloodline, said Lee Yun-keol, head of the centre.  Jang's execution sends a "chilling message" that it's leadership cannot tolerate challenges to the bloodline. "The final decision of Jang Song Thaek's ouster was made by Kim Jong-un and Jang's wife Kim Kyung-hui." 

As with most of the North's elite, information on Jang is sketchy.  He was for years head of the country's internal security, an elite enforcer who locked up enemies of the state.  He was widely seen by analysts as corrupt and bribable, largely without strong political convictions. "Precisely as charged, he was a womanizer and substance abuser, accustomed to being wined and dined," said Bradley K. Martin author of Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader, on the Global Post website. 

State news agency KCNA claimed that Jang admitted plotting to stage a coup using "high-ranking army officers" and other close allies. "I didn't fix the definite time for the coup," he reportedly said.  "But it was my intention to concentrate my department and all economic organs on the cabinet and become premier when the economy goes totally bankrupt and the state is on the verge of collapse."

The ruthlessness of his purge has taken many analysts by surprise.  "With Jang Song Thaek gone, there's nobody else to execute," said Victor Cha, a former senior White House advisor on North Korean affairs, on the online news site  "When you take out the key elements of the party and the key elements of the military you're kind of building from scratch again. It's a very risky strategy."

Jang's wife, who is reportedly ill, has made no public comment about his death, leaving the narrative of her husband's execution - and its aftermath - entirely in the hands of state propagandists.  The KCNA said the country embraced the news.  "The DPRK army and people are now advancing toward the rosy future of a thriving socialist nation, single-heartedly rallied around Kim Jong-un," said a statement. "In this new era … there is no room for a handful of political careerists and factionists to live in."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
peopleJonathan Ross has got a left-field suggestion to replace Clarkson
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
Pandas may be more sociable than previously thought
Arts and Entertainment
The teaser trailer has provoked more questions than answers
filmBut what is Bond's 'secret' that Moneypenny is talking about?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Lewis Hamilton secured his second straight pole of the season
f1Vettel beats Rosberg into third after thunderstorm delays qualifying
Arts and Entertainment
Written protest: Julia Donaldson, author of The Gruffalo, has sent an open letter to the Culture Secretary
footballDoes Hodgson's England team have an identity yet?
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss