Thae Yong Ho rebranded to quash domestic admiration

Kang Mi Jin  |  2016-12-29 16:50
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The North Korean authorities have reportedly ramped up domestic criticism of Thae Yong Ho, North Korea's ex-deputy ambassador in London, who recently defected to South Korea. As Thae was responsible for promoting the Kim Jong Un regime abroad, the authorities appear to be concerned over the impact of the high-ranking officials defection on the people.

"Recently, accusations against Thae Yong Ho have been spreading among the cadres. Some are criticizing him, saying, 'He spent the states foreign currency funds to enjoy luxuries like playing golf,' and, 'He is the model of ungratefulness,' a source in Pyongyang told Daily NK on December 26.

"When the rumor of Thae Yong Ho's defection circulated in the fall, some officials made more positive comments, such as, 'He is so bold.' But in recent times, criticisms have turned sour, with sudden accusations of him being an 'ingrate.'

The abrupt change, she explained, was precipitated by officials at the State Security Department and, according to other rumors, the Central Party having ordered the spread of such sentiments. 

A source in Ryanggang Province added, "A provincial official who once commented to me that Thae Yong Ho's defection was a bold decision suddenly changed his opinion, saying, that Thae must have fled to South Korea after he was caught wasting the Party's foreign currency funds for his own pleasure. But, honestly, his gloomy expression made it pretty obvious that this was not his real interpretation of the events. 

"These days, the first thing the cadres talk about during the end of year self-criticism sessions involves Thae Yong Ho's defection. It is easy to realize that they are systematically forced to hold such opinions," the source added.

However, although high-ranking officials have been publicly critical of the defection, at least some residents are doubting the accusations against Thae Yong Ho.

"A lot of people say among themselves that the regime must be scrambling to save face as the defection of a high-ranking official is an embarrassment. Thats why the fabricated story of Thae Yong Hos corruption was disseminated, a source in South Hamgyong Province added.

"In contrast to the criticism being spread by officials, his defection is still regarded as courageous by a majority of the people.

Meanwhile, Thae has repeatedly denied the North Korean regime's claim that he defected because he was exposed as corrupt. During a private meeting with South Koreas National Assembly Intelligence Committee on December 19, he stated, "It is not true that I have defected because I was afraid of being punished for embezzlement. I was aware of the possibility of the North Korean regime fabricating such accusations, so I have settled the expenses of the embassy and taken photographs of the documents in advance."

In regards to this, a defector who was formerly a high-ranking official in North Korea told Daily NK, "The North Korean authorities are claiming that Thae has embezzled national funds and sold state secrets. But these accusations are paradoxical as the state already issued instructions for him to return to the North in June. If there was even a slight sign of wrongdoing, the state would have immediately recalled him and his children back to the country. Therefore, the fact that the regime had not taken any specific measures against Thae supports his claims of innocence."

*Translated by Yejie Kim
*Edited by Lee Farrand

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