By Choe Sang-Hun
New York Times
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea has executed its top financial official as it struggles to contain chaos set off by its botched attempt to arrest inflation through a radical currency revaluation, according to news reports Thursday in South Korea.The fate of Pak Nam-gi, the ruling Workers’ Party’s finance and planning department chief who is said to have spearheaded the currency reform, became a focal point of speculation when he did not appear at any official functions reported in North Korean media for the past two months.
But the reclusive nature of the North Korean government has made it nearly impossible to verify reports about high-ranking officials.
If the reports about his dismissal or execution are true, though, they suggest that the ailing North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, considers the public discontent in the aftermath of the currency reform a serious challenge to his grip on power.
Mr. Pak “was executed at a firing range in Pyongyang on the trumped-up charges of being an antirevolutionary element as public sentiments worsened over the failure of the currency reform,” the South Korean news agency, Yonhap, quoted unnamed “sources on North Korea” as saying.
In late November, North Korea suddenly told its people that it would introduce new banknotes, ordering them to turn in their old bills for new ones at a rate of 100 to 1. It also put a cap on how much old money they could swap for new currency.
The shock measure was meant to arrest runaway inflation and crack down on illegal free markets in the socialist state. But it only aggravated the food crisis and reportedly led to isolated but highly unusual outbursts of protest in the totalitarian state.
South Korea said it could not confirm the reports about Mr. Pak’s execution. Mr. Kim often keeps personnel reshuffles secret, and party officials who have disappeared from official functions and been reported to be dead in South Korean media often resurface years later with new jobs.
“It’s unusual that Mr. Pak has not been seen in public for two months, and there is speculation about his fate,” said Lee Jong-joo, a spokeswoman at the Unification Ministry in Seoul. “But we don’t have any information about whether he was sacked, arrested or executed by firing squad.”
Until Jan. 9, Mr. Pak’s name regularly appeared in the list of officials North Korean media reported as accompanying Mr. Kim on inspection tours of factories, farms and military units. Names on the list offer guidance on who is in favor in the North Korean hierarchy.
The failed currency reform threatened Mr. Kim’s main policy goal, which was to create at least an impression that its moribund economy would revive by 2012. That is when he is widely expected to announce one of his three known sons — most likely, according to observers, his youngest son, Jung-un — as his official heir.
“The North Korean authorities have tried to reverse their currency policy failure, but they don’t seem to know how,” said Lee Seung-yong, an official at Good Friends, a relief group based in Seoul that collects information from its sources within the North. “We have reports that the food situation is getting worse and some people are dying of hunger.”
Read the rest at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/19/world/asia/19korea.html?ref=world