North Korea’s vice foreign minister was purged of his office as a punishment for the defection of the country’s deputy ambassador to Britain in July, South Korean media reported Wednesday.
Kung Sok-Ung has been removed from his post and expelled from Pyongyang to a rural farming area with his family , said the mass-circulating daily, JoongAng Ilbo, which quoted an anonymous source familiar with North Korean affairs.
It said the purge was ordered by supreme leader Kim Jong-Un following the defection of the North’s deputy ambassador to Britain, Thae Yong-Ho, and his family to South Korea two months ago.
“Since Thae Yong-Ho’s defection in late July, there has been an overall inspection throughout the foreign ministry,” the source said.
“Kung Sok-Ung was held accountable for the embassies in Europe and purged as a result.”
The report said four other high-ranking diplomats in charge of European affairs were also expelled from Pyongyang.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-Hee said the ministry was in the process of “verifying” the report but offered no further comment.
The 72-year-old Kung is a veteran diplomat who had been looking after North Korea’s diplomacy with Russia and Europe for nearly two decades.
Since taking power in 2011, Kim has ordered numerous executions and purges of high-ranking officials to solidify his grip on power.
The most notorious case was that of Kim’s uncle and one-time number two, Jang Song-Thaek, who was executed for charges including treason and corruption in December 2013.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency has put the number of party officials executed during Kim’s rule at over 100.