Fund-manager to Kim Jong-un’s ousted uncle Jang Song Thaek ‘flees North Korea’

 

Ju-Min Park,Jack Kim
Friday 06 December 2013 19:38
A paramilitary police official stands guard behind a gate at the South Korea embassy in Beijing
A paramilitary police official stands guard behind a gate at the South Korea embassy in Beijing

North Korea is facing what could be its most serious defection in 15 years after a man who managed funds for the ousted uncle of leader Kim Jong-un fled the isolated country, South Korean media said on Friday.

The aide has sought asylum in South Korea and is being protected by South Korean officials in a secret location in China, cable news network YTN reported.

The man managed funds for Jang Song Thaek, whose marriage to Kim’s aunt Kim Kyong-hui and proximity to the young leader made him one of the most powerful men in North Korea, YTN said.

But Jang was relieved of his posts last month, according to South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, and YTN said the sacking could have followed the aide’s defection.

The aide also had knowledge of funds belonging to Kim and his late father, former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, YTN reported. If true, the defection would be the first instance in years of a significant insider from the Pyongyang regime switching sides.

Impoverished but nuclear-capable North Korea and the rich, democratic South are still technically at war after their 1950-53 civil war ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. A spokesman for South Korea’s unification ministry, Kim Eui-do, and officials at the country’s foreign ministry said the defection report could not be confirmed.

North Korea’s ruling Kim family is deeply venerated and feared and is ruthless about protecting its privacy.

The aide requested asylum about two months ago and was currently in China, YTN said. In Beijing, there were no signs of additional security around the South Korean embassy.

Asked about the South Korean media reports, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said: “We have noted the report, but do not understand the situation.”

South Korea’s intelligence service has also said two of Jang’s close associates were executed last month for corruption. These reports have not been confirmed either.

Jang’s aide fled to China in late September or early October and that Jang could have been sacked because of this, YTN said.

“A source familiar with the matter said the aide immediately requested asylum from the South Korean government and South Korean officials are currently protecting him at a secret place in China,” the news network said.

China, Pyongyang’s only major ally, usually resists allowing defectors from North Korea to seek asylum elsewhere.

The aide tried to escape to Laos, a route favoured by other defectors, but Chinese authorities prevented him from leaving, YTN said.

US officials have also sought custody of the aide, the television station reported.

About 25,000 North Koreans have defected to the South but few of them were highly placed in Pyongyang.

The major defectors include Hwang Jang-yop, a high-level Worker’s Party ideologue who was the architect of the Juche, or self-reliance, ideology of North Korea, who sought asylum in the South in 1997.

Kim Jong-un’s aunt on his mother’s side fled to the United States in 1998, media reports have said. In 2002, North Korean nuclear scientist Kyong Won-ha escaped the country, although few details are known.

Reuters

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