Money man linked to Kim Jong-un's ousted uncle said to have defected
Aide who controlled funds of North Korean leader's ousted uncle is said to have fled to China; he could hold secrets to inner workings of regime
Reuters in Seoul
North Korea is facing what could be its most serious defection in 15 years after a man who managed funds for the ousted uncle of leader Kim Jong-un fled the country, South Korean media said yesterday.
The aide has sought asylum in South Korea and is being protected by South Korean officials in a secret location in China, cable news network YTN said.
YTN said the man managed funds for Jang Song-thaek, whose marriage to Kim's aunt and proximity to the young leader made him one of the most powerful men in North Korea.
Jang was relieved of his posts last month, according to South Korea's National Intelligence Service (NIS), and YTN said the sacking could have followed the aide's defection.
YTN said the aide also had knowledge of funds belonging to Kim and his father, former leader Kim Jong-il.
If true, the defection would be the first instance in years of a significant insider from the Pyongyang regime switching sides.
A spokesman for South Korea's Unification Ministry, Kim Eui-do, and officials at the Foreign Ministry could not confirm the defection.
North Korea's ruling Kim family is ruthless about protecting its security and privacy and little is known about the inner workings of the regime.
The aide requested asylum about two months ago and was currently in China, YTN said. In Beijing, there were no signs of any additional security around the South Korean embassy.
Asked about the media reports, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said: "We have noted the report, but do not understand the situation."
YTN said Jang's aide fled to China in late September or early October and that Jang could have been sacked because of this.
"A source familiar with the matter said the aide immediately requested asylum from the South Korean government and South Korean officials are currently protecting him at a secret place in China," it said.
South Korea's intelligence service earlier said two of Jang's close associates were executed last month for corruption.
China, Pyongyang's only major ally, usually resists allowing defectors from North Korea to seek asylum elsewhere.
YTN said the aide tried to escape to Laos, a route favoured by other defectors, but Chinese authorities prevented him from leaving.