SEOUL – An aide of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s uncle is seeking asylum in South Korea after fleeing his country ahead of a leadership purge, a report said Friday.
South Korean officials believe the escapee might have managed funds for Jang Song Thaek, who until last week was regarded as Kim’s political regent, according to the South’s cable news network YTN.
The report, citing intelligence sources, also said he may have information on secret funds controlled by the Kim family. It said the man escaped from Pyongyang two months ago and is now under the protection of South Korean intelligence agents in China while he awaits a flight to Seoul.
South Korea’s spy agency and Unification Ministry declined to confirm the report.
The National Intelligence Service (NIS) told a parliamentary committee Tuesday in Seoul that it believed Kim’s uncle, Jang, had been removed and two associates executed.
YTN said the aide fled after discovering Jang’s dismissal.
On Thursday, Yonhap news agency reported that North Korea’s ambassador to Malaysia, Jang Yong Chol, had been recalled after Jang was apparently ousted. The ambassador’s wife and two sons were spotted Thursday before boarding a flight to Pyongyang in China’s northeastern city of Shenyang, Yonhap said, citing multiple witnesses.
NIS chief Nam Jae-joon told a parliamentary committee Friday that the ambassador, one of Jang’s nephews, had been recalled.
North Korea’s ambassador to Cuba, Jon Yong Jin — the husband of Jang’s elder sister — has also been recalled, he said, according to a joint briefing by ruling and opposition party lawmakers.
Jang’s apparent dismissal is particularly noteworthy given the crucial role he was seen as having played in securing Kim’s own succession after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il.
The NIS assessment has triggered a wave of conjecture as to why Kim has seemingly turned on the 67-year-old Jang, who helped put him on the throne. However, the NIS report was only an assessment and it is yet to be confirmed whether Jang has actually been dismissed.