North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is believed to have demoted one of his top officials and sent him to a rural collective farm for reeducation, South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers Tuesday.
If confirmed, the banishment of Choe Ryong Hae would be the latest in a series of executions, purges and dismissals that Kim has orchestrated in what analysts say is a further strengthening of his grip on power since taking over in late 2011.
The National Intelligence Service (NIS) said that Choe’s demotion was related to the alleged collapse of a water tunnel at a power station. Choe was reportedly responsible for the construction of the power station in North Korea’s northeastern Ryanggang province. The NIS said Choe and Kim were also at odds over youth-related policies, according to Shin’s office.
Choe was a rising star after Kim inherited power upon the death of his dictator father Kim Jong Il. He held a series of top posts, including the top political officer in the Korean People’s Army which once made him North Korea’s second most powerful official following the 2013 execution of Kim’s uncle, Jang Song Thaek.
His influence is believed to have diminished in April 2014 when his top army post was found to have been given to Hwang Pyong So, who is now widely considered to be the North’s No. 2 official.
Choe was still considered one of Kim’s top aides and held a number of important posts, including member of the powerful Political Bureau of the ruling Worker’s Party and secretary of the party’s Central Committee. The NIS told lawmakers that Kim is eventually expected to rehabilitee Choe, but didn’t say when.
Kim Jong-un’s wife Ri Sol Ju
Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo-jong
One sports a Christian Dior handbag and favors Western clothes. The other carries a notebook and wears dark uniforms. These fashion opposites are the two most influential women in North Korea.
While Kim Jong-un’s wife Ri Sol Ju and younger sister Kim Yo-jong are currently allies in sustaining one of the world’s most reclusive leaders, their overlapping influence makes them potential rivals in a regime where family ties aren’t strong enough to protect against Kim’s penchant for purges.
“Uneasiness is inevitable in a relationship like this,” Kang Myong Do, a son-in-law of North Korea’s former Prime Minister, Kang Song San, said by phone. “The wife wouldn’t like it if her husband got too close to his sister; the sister wouldn’t like it if her brother got too close to his wife.”
Citing conversations with people who have been in the room with both women at the same time, Michael Madden, editor of the North Korea Leadership Watch blog, said the two appeared friendly to each other as they sat at opposite sides – Ri with her husband and Kim with senior party officials.
Kim Jong-un’s wife Ri Sol Ju commands a growing following among the wives of North Korean elite while Kim Yo-jong now holds a senior position in the ruling Workers’ Party and serves as an adviser to her brother.
The purge of Jang Song Thaek may have strengthened the hand of Ri with the North Korean elite looking to avoid a similar fate. There are accounts that the wives of North Korean elite used their ties to Ri to “limit the number of officials removed from office due to the Jang purge,” Madden said.
“What we’ll need to watch for is whether Ri Sol Ju becomes Queen Bee among the wives or if that role is assumed by Yo-jong,” he said in an e-mail. “They are a quiet but politically influential cohort in the North Korean elite.”
In public Ri offers a softer side of the Supreme Leader and has been a regular in North Korean propaganda. In 2005, she traveled to South Korea as a teenage cheerleader for North Korean teams at an athletic competition. Seven years later she was revealed as his wife at an appearance with Kim at an amusement park in July 2012.
Still, so little is known about their relationship that it took former NBA star Dennis Rodman to reveal the couple had a child after a trip to Pyongyang in 2013 to play basketball. Rodman told the Guardian newspaper that he held Kim’s daughter Ju-ae and that Kim is a “good dad and has a beautiful family”.
Kim Yo-jong chooses to remain in her brother’s shadow at public events.
Still, Kim Yo-jong “has a lot of control over who has access to her brother, what they say to him, what documents they hand over – in short, she is a combination gatekeeper and traffic cop,” said Michael Madden, editor of the North Korea Leadership Watch blog.
She joined her brother in handing out awards to troops at an air force competition in May and that suggests she commands the party’s Organization and Guidance Department, which handles everything from promotions to purges, Cheong Seong Chang, a senior analyst at the Sejong Institute near Seoul, said in an e-mail.
Kim was born to the same Korean-Japanese dancer, Ko Yong Hui, as Kim Jong-un. In February 2011 South Korean broadcaster KBS showed what it identified as Kim Yo-jong and her other brother, Kim Jong-chol, enjoying an Eric Clapton concert in Singapore.
Yonhap News said January 2 Kim married one of party secretary Choe Ryong Hae’s sons, citing two people in China it didn’t identify and a photo of her wearing a ring. Dong-A Ilbo newspaper rebutted the report days later.
Choi Kun-chol says he didn’t know he had spent several years helping to fill Kim Jong Il’s private slush fund until he left North Korea. Like the thousands of others working under the North Korean government division known as Office 39, Mr. Choi was told by superiors that he was generating money to build a strong socialist economy.
In fact, according to details that Mr. Choi gave about his work it was a shadowy network of businesses that contribute to a private fund believed to be worth billions of dollars for the use of the ruling Kim family.
Defectors say Office 39 was created during the 1970s by Kim Jong Il, the father of current leader Kim Jong Un, to buy influence in his own rise to power. Office 39 has been accused by the U.S. and others of running an array of illicit money-making operations such as currency counterfeiting, narcotics and arms sales. Some experts estimate the total annual income of Office 39 to be up to a couple of billion dollars a year.
High-level defectors, security officials and analysts say the fund still enables current ruler Kim Jong Un to underwrite comfortable lifestyles for the upper tier of North Korean society to ensure their support. Analysts and security officials say the execution of Kim Jong Un’s uncle, Jang Song Thaek, late last year may have been because Mr. Jang had interrupted the flow of funds to Office 39.
Office 39 also runs legal businesses under a state-owned shell corporation known as the Daesong Group, according to Mr. Choi and other defectors.
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The aunt of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has mysteriously disappeared from a re-run of a propaganda film, leading to speculation that she has been purged – or even executed.
Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported that while the original screening featuring Ms Kim (as shown circled above), a re-run shown on Tuesday depicts a scene in which only Kim Jong-un, his wife, and male military officials are visible.
Kim Kyong-hui, 67, is the widow of Jang Song-taek who was recently executed. It was believed she would always remain ‘safe’ under her nephew’s brutal regime, leading analysts to say that her disappearance from the documentary is ominous. Ms Kim’s safety from purging or execution had always been assumed because she is the daughter of North Korean founder Kim Il-sun and the sister of the late leader, Kim Jong-il. Despite all this, Ms Kim is still associated with a husband who was publicly denounced as a traitor and executed in December.
Until January this year, Ms Kim was frequently seen at the side of her nephew and his wife at public events. In the footage in question, which aired in January, she was seen walking with the leader and his wife towards the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in the capital, Pyongyang, to pay tribute to the embalmed bodies of former leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.
The apparent ‘disappearance’ of Kim Kyong-hui has led to speculation that her place in high positions in the Workers’ Party has been taken by Kim Jong-un’s younger sister, Yo-jong.
According to Celebrity Net Worth, Kim Jong-un is currently valued at $5 billion. Earlier last month, a joint investigation conducted by the South Korean and American governments revealed that the North Korean dictator and his family controlled these assets, distributed throughout more than 200 foreign bank accounts in multiple countries.
Kim Jong-un’s late father Kim Jong-il, reportedly lived a ridiculously wealthy lifestyle. Some examples:
- In a 2001 train trip Kim Jong-il took to Russia, he had a 16-car private train that was stocked with crates of French wine and live lobsters.
- Kim Jong-il’s former private Japanese sushi chef revealed Mr. Kim had a wine cellar stocked with 10,000 bottles, and indulged in pricey shark fin soup on a weekly basis.
A recent U.N. report found that Kim Jong-un also isn’t afraid to spend generously. According to the report, Kim Jong-un tried to import luxury Mercedes-Benz vehicles, dozens of pianos, and high-end musical equipment. He’s also a fan of fine liquor, specifically cognac.
The report estimates that state spending on luxury goods increased from an average of $300 million a year under Kim Jong-il to $645 million in 2012.
Meanwhile, the current Gross Domestic Product per capita for North Korean residents is at about $1,800, according to a 2011 estimate from the CIA. Compare that to the $32,400 for its neighbors in South Korea, $49,800 in the United States, and $9,100 in China.
The younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has made an official debut of sorts. Kim Yo-Jong, believed to be 26, accompanied her elder brother to a polling station on Sunday when North Korea held stage-managed elections to its rubber stamp parliament.
It was not her first appearance. She was shown on state television in 2011, tearfully standing next to Kim Jong-Un as they attended the funeral of their father and former ruler Kim Jong-Il.
Since then she has occasionally been seen accompanying her brother on his “field guidance trips”.
Sunday’s outing was different as she was, for the first time, officially listed by her name and as a “senior official” attending the voting function along with several top party and army luminaries.
Ahn Chan-Il, head of Seoul-based World Institute for North Korea Studies, said Kim Yo-Jong was being groomed to play the same supporting role as her very influential aunt. “Kim Jong-Un and Kim Yo-Jong will work in a similar way as their father and Kim Kyong-Hui did in securing the future of the Kim dynasty,” Ahn said.
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.”
According to a UN report, North Korea’s spending on luxury goods has more than doubled from an average of $300 million a year to $646 million in 2012, when Kim Jong-un assumed control following his father’s death, Kim Jong-il. The 372-page report said the country continues to allocate a “significant amount of state resources for the purchase and important of luxury goods” while hunger and malnutrition take a heavy toll on the population.
These items violate UN sanctions imposed on North Korea prohibiting “the provision of luxury goods” adopted in 2007. The report did not examine how the items were imported into the country.
North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un reportedly treated himself to a dozen luxury cars, top quality pianos and a private theatre for his closest allies and top aides.
A former North Korean official who managed to escape the country said Kim funded his lavish lifestyle by trafficking ivory from Africa to China and selling alcohol to Islamic countries. The money was transferred into parallel funds outside of the state budget to cover “personal expenses of the Supreme leader, his family and other elites”.