The South Korean government is investigating reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has purged the man widely believed to be the new power behind the dictatorial throne after Kim had his uncle deposed and executed late last year.
Free North Korea Radio, a Seoul-based service which broadcasts news to North Korean listeners, first reported rumors that Choe Ryong-hae had been arrested and was being interrogated Friday. Rumors and speculation continued to grow over the weekend to the extent that South Korea's Unification Ministry, which handles relations between the two Koreas, told The Times of London that it was "looking into" the rumors.
Choe is believed to have succeeded Jang Song-taek as the Stalinist dictatorship's military politburo chief. Jang, who was married to Kim's aunt, the sister of former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, was executed last December after being accused of plotting to commit "crimes against the state."
The South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported that South Korean intelligence had assumed that Choe would sooner or later be purged based on the fact that he had not been seen at two major events in late February. The paper cited unnamed experts in suggesting that the root of the possible purge might be a falling-out that occurred in a scramble for control of state-run businesses in the aftermath of Jang's execution.
Other South Korean officials warned that there would not be any more concrete information as to Choe's possible whereabouts until later this month. "There is no concrete information so we need to wait and see until the Supreme People's Assembly convenes on March 9," one official told the Chosun Ilbo.