Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

Tsutomu Nishioka

【#660(Special)】Key KWP Official Fired

Tsutomu Nishioka / 2020.03.05 (Thu)

March 2, 2020

An incident as big as the execution of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s uncle Jang Song Thaek in December 2013 occurred in the center of power in Pyongyang in February. The powerful director of the Organization and Guidance Department of the Korean Workers’ Party was fired at an open meeting.

On February 28, North Korean official media uniformly reported that Organization and Guidance Department Director Ri Man Gon as well as KWP Vice Chairman in charge of agriculture Pak Thae Dok were dismissed. The North’s Korean Central Television showed Ri attending the meeting. The fourth person from left in the front row was desperately taking a note of KWP Chairman Kim’s remarks. Some North Korean defectors in Seoul said that Ri had been executed.

Rumored execution of Ri

The KWP Organization and Guidance Department, called the core of the party, has powerful authorities on the following five matters: (1) to shuffle senior party, military, security and government officials of director-general level or above, (2) to guide people’s political life through overseeing weekend meetings of the entire public for self-recrimination and mutual recrimination, (3) to conduct thought censorship leading to dismissing and purging those with bad thoughts, (4) to check all policy proposals before being presented to Chairman Kim, and (5) to guard Chairman Kim and provide his personal supplies. The open dismissal of such powerful department’s head represents something unusual.

As director of the KWP Military Industry Department, Ri took charge of three nuclear explosion tests and 40 ballistic missile firing tests in 2016 and 2017. Getting credit for these achievements, he was named first deputy director of the Organization and Guidance Department in 2018 and director of the department in April 2019.

According to official media reports, Ri was dismissed for anti-KWP acts, ascendancy, privileges, bureaucracy and corruptions that emerged among KWP Central Committee cadres and activists of a KWP leader training organization. Although details have not been specified, the party leader training organization is said to be the Kim Il Sung’s Higher Party School. The party committee of the party leader training base was dissolved for corruptions, reports said, indicating that the school was dissolved. This is an unprecedented event.

Dictator forced into a corner

As the center of power, the Organization and Guidance Department shares common destiny with Chairman Kim. Therefore, the department consists of only those loyal to the leader. The department’s leadership collects massive bribes over appointments and purges. However, no corruption in the department had been unveiled. This is because the department is positioned to check other KWP divisions without being checked.

At a general meeting of the KWP Central Committee last December, Chairman Kim’s younger sister Kim Yo Jong was named first deputy director of the Organization and Guidance Department. Insider information suggests that Kim Yo Jong has been assigning her aides to the Organization and Guidance Department to effectively take control of the department since around 2017.

Factors behind the latest dismissal are unknown as of this moment. Due to the unknown factors, however, Chairman Kim lost confidence in the Organization and Guidance Department director positioned as his closest aide. Undoubtedly, the dictator has been forced into a corner due to the depletion of his secret funds under international economic sanctions, the new coronavirus epidemic, supply shortages and price spikes caused by the closure of the border with China, and his health deterioration.

Tsutomu Nishioka is a senior fellow and a Planning Committee member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals and a visiting professor at Reitaku University. He covers South and North Koreas.