One of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s top aides has disappeared from public life, prompting speculation that he may have been executed.
General Hwang Pyong-so was once at the heart of Kim’s inner circle within the Workers’ Party Central Committee. As a Vice-Marshall he also held the most senior military position after the supreme commander.
Before he reportedly fell out of favour Mr Hwang was one of only four people pictured standing next to Kim in state propaganda vaunting the regime’s sixth nuclear test in September.
But he is since believed to have been expelled from the party amid allegations of bribery and his deputy, Kim Won-hong, banished to prison camp. Mr Hwang has not been seen in public since October 13.
“If Hwang was indeed kicked out of the Workers’ Party, it would practically mean the end of his political career, and possibly his life, though it is unknown whether or not he is still alive,” the South Korean JoongAng Ilbo reported.
News of his demise first emerged in November during a parliamentary briefing by South Korea’s intelligence body, the NIS.
According to the intelligence reports, Mr Hwang and Mr Kim had been targeted by a rare inspection of the army’s politburo following suspicions of an “impure attitude” towards the regime.
A South Korean source told the JoongAng Ilbo that the duo had allegedly been receiving kickbacks in exchange for promotions, leading Kim to demand they be punished “as a warning to others.”
In the worst case scenario the fate of the two men could be similar to Kim Jong-un’s uncle, Jang Song-thaek, who was arrested in November 2013 before being executed for “anti-party, counter-revolutionary factional acts” the following month, said the paper.
Kim is reported to have decided to execute him during a trip to Mount Paektu, which holds huge mythical importance to the ruling dynasty. North Korea observers are now speculating about the significance of the young dictator’s most recent visit to the mountain last Friday.