SEOUL, South Korea — In a faraway kingdom, a chubby, eccentrically dressed dictator has purged his number-two man, a veteran ally of the ruling dynasty. The second-in-command, a well-known advocate of reform, may have veered too far from his boss and challenged the party line, according to an state propaganda broadcast on Monday.
To clarify, we’re not talking about the fate of Number Two, the businessman who, for similar crimes, was tossed into a fire pit by Dr. Evil.
But at times, the theatrics of North Korea’s leadership indeed resembles an Austin Powers movie. On Monday, the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) released a rare and scalding denouncement of a top leader, proclaiming that Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un’s right-hand lieutenant and uncle, Jang Song Taek, had been relieved of his duties and arrested.
For a secretive nation like North Korea, the reprimand was incredibly detailed.
State media claimed that discord would not be tolerated under a single-party system with “Kim at its center.” North Korean television soon broadcasted a clip of Jang’s arrest at a top meeting on Sunday, coming after rumors last week that Jang had been purged.
The culprit “committed such anti-party, counter-revolutionary factional acts as gnawing at the unity and cohesion of the party,” read the statement, referencing an elite meeting of the politburo of the Korean Workers’ Party on Sunday.
In another oddity, the statement poured over Jang’s so-called “depraved” capitalist life. “By abusing his power, he was engrossed in irregularities and corruption, had improper relations with several women and was wined and dined at back parlors of deluxe restaurants,” the statement read.
“Ideologically sick and extremely idle and easy-going, he used drugs and squandered foreign currency at casinos while he was receiving medical treatment in a foreign country under the care of the party.”
Sound familiar? That’s right: He’s the Rob Ford of North Korea — or, at least, that's what state media says.
The allegation that Jang, like Toronto’s embattled mayor, lived a life of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll probably carries a kernel of truth, according to testimony from North Korean defectors and South Korean lawmakers.
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As a university student, Jang forwent academia and was the life of the party, according to testimony from North Korea’s highest-ranking known defector, Hwang Jang Yop, who is now deceased. South Korean lawmakers who visited Pyongyang in 2002 similarly offered a glimpse into Jang’s hard-partying ways, Reuters reported.
Jang was dismissed in 2004, but re-emerged years later when Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Jong Il, was in poor health. Jang and his wife — Kim Jong Il’s younger sister — probably ushered in the transition to the 20-something son following the elder Kim’s death in December 2011.
Two years later, Jang has apparently gained too much influence for the boy dictator’s taste, prompting his ouster.
To be fair, all sorts of North Korean elites live on the fast track, enjoying the “depraved” lifestyles that the KCNA has denounced. Jang’s life, however, appears to be unusually decadent.
“The real issue, of course, is factionalism, which curiously enough KCNA admitted,” said Robert Kelly, a political science professor at Busan National University in South Korea. “The personal stuff is just dirt to dump him.”
Other examples abound. Jang’s wife, Kim Kyong Hui, reportedly pounds whiskey and has survived repeated rumors of her imminent death from liver failure.
Kim Jong Il, meanwhile, reportedly held lavish pizza parties while his people were starving in a famine in the 1990s. The Dear Leader also owned a collection of tens of thousands of foreign films.
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