Jang Song-taek executed because of his “sleazy past”

The Chosun Ilbo claims that Jang Song-taek, Kim Jong-un’s uncle, was executed chiefly for his role in overseeing a thinly-disguised prostitution ring.

This according to the Kim family’s former sushi chef, Kenji Fujimoto, who claimed Jang Song-taek was eliminated because of his role supplying young women for a “pleasure brigade” for former leader Kim Jong-il, because his son detested his father’s womanizing.

Fujimoto told the U.K.’s Daily Mail on Saturday that when Kim Jong-un returned to North Korea aged 18 from study abroad, he “found himself exposed to his father’s ‘pleasure brigade,’ ” groups of beautiful young women who sing, strip and perform massages or sexual favors.

Fujimoto added that Jong-un was shy with girls and “loathes having relationships with multiple women.”

What did Jang Song Taek do wrong?

Jang Song Taek, who held numerous posts in the North Korean regime since the 1970s, was considered the country’s second-most powerful man. Then, the most powerful man, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, had his regent uncle executed.

The secretive nature of the North Korean regime makes it a challenge to deduce why Jang fell out of favor, though one expert sums it up this way: Kim Jong Un outgrew his guardian, and took him out. Those who agree with this hypothesis look at Jang’s trajectory throughout his decades in the regime.

At least twice before, Jang was purged from the leadership presumably for his too-big ambitions. Alexandre Mansourov, a North Korea expert at Johns Hopkins University, and other analysts say Jang had a big ego and was arrogant.

One of the more surprising developments following the execution of Jang was the lengthy indictment of his alleged crimes and his character that was published by the state media. For the regime to so openly explain why it executed him, it could hint at Jang truly having overstepped his bounds. Whatever Jang did to betray North Korea, it was so severe that his wife, the sister of Kim Jong Il, could not, or would not, help spare him.

To the outside world, the transition of power from Kim Jong Il to Kim Jong Un appeared smooth, but the revelations made in the indictment cast a different light on the change in power. The fall of Jang is evidence that there was resistance and tension behind the scenes during these past years, Mansourov said. It may turn out that Jang was building his own power base, growing his own cult of personality.

Jang may have underestimated the younger Kim, thinking he was a kid who could be manipulated, Mansourov said. In the end, Kim outgrew his regent.

[CNN]

The revamping of the North Korean power structure

Besides ousting his uncle and guardian Jang Song-taek, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un appears to be completing revamping the power structure of the regime, now having replaced about half of the top cadres in the Workers Party, government and military in the year and 10 months since he took power.

According to the South Korean Unification Ministry, Kim has replaced 97 of 218 party heads, government ministers and senior military officers since his father Kim Jong-il died in December 2001.

And some 44 percent of military commanders have also been ousted, replacing elderly officers from Kim Jong-il’s time to younger officers (in their 50s).

South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae told lawmakers rumors that Jang Song-taek’s closest confidants Ri Yong-ha and Jang Su-gil were publicly executed in late November for damaging the Workers Party have been confirmed.

Jang’s brother-in-law, the North Korean Ambassador to Cuba, Jon Yong-jin, is apparently set to return to Pyongyang on Thursday. A diplomatic source in Beijing said Jon appears to have been recalled. Jang’s nephew and Ambassador to Malaysia Jang Yong-chol has already been recalled.

The Unification Minister said no harm appears to have come to Jang himself, though his whereabouts are a mystery.

Meanwhile, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is apparently away from Pyongyang, judging by a sighting of his personal train.

Jang Song-taek and Kim Kyong Hui, behind-the-scenes powers in North Korea

At the time of Kim Jong Il’s apparent stroke in August 2008, his brother-in-law, Jang Song-taek (who is married to Kim’s sister, Kim Kyong-hui) was rumored to be the key backer of the older brother (Kim Jong-nam) of North Korea’s new leader, Kim Jong-un.

However in early 2009, Jang shifted his support to Kim Jong-un in light of Kim Jong Il’s “special affection” for his third son and successor, and out of consideration for his own future political power. Worried about being purged as he was in 2004 for becoming too powerful within the regime, Jang reportedly reached a deal with Kim Jong Il and thus agreed to throw his support behind Kim Jong-un. In return, Kim Jong Il allowed Jang to engineer the succession by placing his allies in key posts throughout the regime.

Kim Kyong Hui, the aunt of North Korea’s present leader Kim Jong-un, has been known as the “godmother of the royal family.” Kyong Hui is herself a four-star general – the first woman in North Korea to hold that rank –  and well known for being a “shadow power broker.” Japanese companies seeking to move into North Korea sought out personal connections that would eventually lead to her.

Kim Kyong Hui, married to the second-most powerful man in North Korea Jang Song-taek, has been described as cantankerous, obstinate and a drunk. North Korean insiders say Kyong Hui has a violent temperament and never changes her mind once she has made a decision. She was a regular member of the alcohol drinking parties hosted by Jong Il and attended by high-ranking party officials. According to sources, she cannot stop drinking once she starts. She has been known to drunkenly bellow at her husband: “Hey, Jang Song Taek, drink up!”

She met her husband, Jang Song Taek, who came from an ordinary family outside of Pyongyang, when they were students at Kim Il Sung University.

Jang Song Taek increased influence

A recent photograph of North Korea’s leader and his military entourage is stirring speculation that Kim Jong Un’s uncle, Jang Song Taek, may have a new role.

Jang Song Taek North Korea brown uniformIn a country where the smallest details involving public appearances by North Korea’s leader are choreographed, a uniform change for a key insider is drawing notice. The vice chairman of the national defense commission, Jang Song Taek, has switched his military uniform from light to dark brown. (See front row, 2nd from left) All of the other top brass seen during a ceremony Sunday to mark the country’s 64th anniversary were clad in light brown.

The Chosun Ilbo newspaper in South Korea, quoting an intelligence official, says this means Jang, a four-star general who is the uncle of the new, young leader, Kim Jong Un, is now in charge of the most elite bodyguard unit. Analysts say the unit, which is linked to the army but not under its control, has tens of thousands of elite personnel, including intelligence operatives, with control over anti-artillery batteries, missiles, combat tanks and armored limousines. It would also be tasked with fending off any internal coup attempts.

Putting the man in the dark brown uniform in charge would further cement family ties between the elite unit’s leadership and the Kim dynasty. Jang is married to the daughter of North Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung.

Sixty-six year-old Kim Kyong Hui herself is also a four-star general – the first woman in North Korea to hold that rank – and seen in recent photographs looking comparatively frail. Elite defectors from the North frequently describe the only sister of the late Kim Jong Il as a powerful influence not only over her husband, but her nephew, as well. They say she has a reputation for being ill-mannered and struggling with alcoholism.

An analyst says based on Jang’s recent meeting with top officials in China and being among those to greet a religious delegation last week from South Korea, he can now be regarded as the second-in-command in Pyongyang controlling affairs of state.

Kim Jong Un, who is not yet 30 years of age, is regarded to have firmly secured his grip on power after succeeding his father who died at the age of 69 last December.