North Korea has announced the removal from power of leader Kim Jong Un’s uncle Jang Song Thaek, accusing him of corruption, drug use, gambling, womanising and leading a “dissolute and depraved life”.
The crimes listed included the extraordinary accusation that Jang “dreamed different dreams” to the leadership.
The news came as state TV broadcast a still photograph of a man once seen as the second most powerful in the country being hauled away by uniformed guards from a large conference hall, as it reported on a politburo meeting.
The sacking of Mr Jang followed South Korean media reports that one of his aides had sought asylum in South Korea.
The unidentified aide, who managed funds for Mr Jang, was being protected by South Korean officials in a secret location in China, according to cable news network YTN and the Kyunghyang Shinmun newspaper.
Mr Jang was removed from all his posts and expelled from the ruling Workers’ Party during a meeting of its politburo on Sunday, the North’s official KCNA news agency said. Kim Jong Un attended and “guided” the meeting, it said.
Mr Kim’s uncle has also been airbrushed out of pictures and video footage and experts said his name was no longer searchable on the KCNA database.
“Jang and his followers committed criminal acts baffling imagination and they did tremendous harm to our party and revolution,” KCNA said, without specifying whether Mr Jang had been detained or charged with any crime.
The report did not refer to the aide, whose defection, if confirmed, would be the most serious for North Korea in 15 years.
The decision to remove Mr Jang was widely reported in North Korea, including on the front page of the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper yesterday, in contrast to the dismissal of officials in the past, which were almost never reported.
The Rodong Sinmun carried a picture of what it said was the politburo meeting. Mr Jang and his wife Kim Kyong Hui, an aunt to the young leader, were among 17 politburo members. Neither could be seen in the photo.
But Ms Kim, the daughter of North Korea’s founding leader, Kim Il Sung, was not in trouble, according to a source with close ties to Pyongyang.
The sacking means North Korea is undergoing its biggest leadership upheaval since the death in 2011 of former leader Kim Jong Il, the younger Kim’s father.
Among Mr Jang’s senior party and military posts, he was vice-chairman of the country’s top military body, the National Defence Commission.
He had close ties to China and visited Beijing in 2012 on behalf of Mr Kim. He was also head of the North Korean side of a joint project managing a special economic zone with Beijing.
KCNA listed a series of reasons why Jang was dismissed, including mismanagement of the country’s financial system, corruption, womanising and abusing alcohol and drugs. “Jang pretended to uphold the party and leader but was engrossed in such factional acts as dreaming different dreams and involving himself in double-dealing behind the scene,” KCNA said.
“Affected by the capitalist way of living, Jang committed irregularities and corruption and led a dissolute and depraved life.”
Experts say his removal will help Mr Kim consolidate his power base with a group of younger aides. Until he was fired, Mr Jang was widely considered to be working to ensure his nephew firmly established his grip on power.
Mr Jang had been prominent in many reports and photographs of Kim Jong Un’s public activities, but his appearances have tapered off sharply this year and he has not been seen in official media since early November.
He has survived previous purges and official displeasure, thanks in large part to his sometimes tempestuous marriage to Ms Kim, but this time was different, according to Jeung Young-tae, an expert at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul.