Official executed for failed economic policies
THE North Korean official who oversaw last year's disastrous currency revaluation has been executed by firing squad, according to reports from South Korea.
Pak Nam Gi, the former finance director of the ruling Workers' Party, was shot in Pyongyang last week, according to the Yonhap news agency and a South Korean newspaper.
Yonhap quoted an unidentified North Korean source saying the official had been convicted of treason for "ruining the national economy as the son of a big landlord who infiltrated the ranks of revolutionaries".
It is more likely that he has been made a scapegoat for one of the most unpopular moves by the North Korean regime since the deadly famine of the 1990s.
Mr Pak, who was 77, was once a close aide to Kim Jong Il, the country's ruler and "Dear Leader", and often accompanied him on his frequent trips around the country dispensing "on-the-spot guidance" at factories, farms and military units.
But Mr Pak disappeared abruptly from the state media in January, two months after the catastrophic revaluation of the North Korean won.
In November all North Koreans were told to swap old won notes with new ones at an exchange rate of one to 100.
The decree appeared to have two purposes -- to control inflation by limiting the amount of cash in circulation, and to destroy the fortunes of black market traders, money changers and others who had been profiting from North Korea's nascent free market economy.
Because of a cap of 100,000 won per family (€526 at the official exchange rate then), anyone with significant holdings of cash had their savings wiped out.
There were immediate reports of public outrage and confusion at the measure. "Loud sounds of weeping in every house have not ceased since the news was released," one South Korean news website quoted an inhabitant of the Chinese border city of Sinuiju as saying. "Weeping and fighting between couples has not stopped anywhere. The atmosphere of the city is terrible now."
Further reports, conveyed by North Koreans using illegal Chinese mobile telephones close to the border, said intelligence agents enforcing the crackdown on markets had been attacked and even killed by mobs of traders. Open unrest and expressions of dissent are extremely rare in North Korea.
The fiasco comes at a sensitive time, when the regime appears to be preparing to publicise the planned succession of Mr Kim (68) by one of his sons, probably Jong Un, who is in his mid-20s.
The "Dear Leader" suffered a ill-health 18 months ago, apparently a stroke, that forced him to drop from public view, to return looking strikingly emaciated six months later. (© The Times, London)