Speculation spreads over fate of people close to deposed N Korean official

Speculation spreads over fate of people close to deposed N Korean official
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

After the ouster of Jang Song-thaek, the once-powerful uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, a host of his confidants and associates are thought to have been purged or fled the country.

Ri Su-yong, Pyongyang's former ambassador to Switzerland and key manager of the reclusive regime's overseas funds, appears to be among them.

Japan's daily Mainichi Shimbun has reported, citing multiple sources close to the North Korean leadership, that Ri was executed for crimes in connection with Jang, who was purged on Sunday for "anti-party and anti-revolutionary activities" and corruption.

Ri, who was appointed envoy to Switzerland in 1988, managed North Korea's secret funds amounting to about $4 billion. While in Switzerland, Ri also served as a guardian of the current North Korean leader who studied there.

After returning home in 2010, Ri became one of the core officials in charge of attracting foreign investment from the outside world, particularly from China. Since late 2011, Ri worked as a senior member of the party's administration division, which was headed by Jang.

Seoul officials doubted the report about Ri's fate, saying that Ri was seen attending a politburo meeting of the Central Committee of the North's ruling Workers' Party on Sunday. In a scene broadcast by the Korean Central TV on Monday, Ri was seen watching Jang being arrested by security officials during the meeting.

"Ri is highly likely to have attended the meeting. The rumours that he was executed are unreliable," a Seoul official told reporters.

A recent series of news reports also raised the possibility that many of high-level officials with ties to Jang have been purged. They said the officials, who had been in touch with Chinese officials, went out of contact.

Local media also reported that one senior military official, who belonged to Jang's administration division in the Workers' Party, fled the country in October to seek political asylum.

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