North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ousted a former foreign minister who played a key role in his summits with former US President Donald Trump in 2018 and 2019, according to intelligence authorities cited by South Korean MPs on Thursday (5 January).
Ri Yong-ho has remained out of the public view since denuclearization talks with Washington halted following a failed summit between Kim and Trump in early 2019 in Vietnam, but Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun reported on Wednesday, citing anonymous sources, that he was executed last year.
According to Yoo Sang-bum, a member of the parliamentary intelligence committee, the National Intelligence Service of South Korea informed MPs that Ri had been purged, but it is unknown whether he was executed.
Yoo told reporters following a briefing by the espionage agency, “They confirmed Ri’s purging but not his execution.”
Yoo stated that the agency did not provide an explanation for Ri’s dismissal, and lawmakers were unable to substantiate a Yomiuri report claiming that several other diplomats from the North Korean Embassy in London were also executed.
Ri was last referenced in North Korean state media in April 2020, when he was ousted from the Kim Jong-un-led State Affairs Commission. He was fired from his position as chief diplomat months earlier.
Diplomat with years of experience in nuclear negotiations, Ri accompanied Kim to Singapore and Hanoi in 2018 and 2019, respectively, for summits with Trump.
There have been media allegations of the execution of a number of Pyongyang officials engaged in the failed summit; nevertheless, some of these figures ultimately reappeared in state media.
Yoo added that the intelligence agency ascribed the recent dismissal of Pak Jong Chon, formerly the second-most prominent military official after Kim, to inadequate training readiness and a lack of leadership.