A report that several North Korean officials were executed over the failed February summit between Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump in Hanoi had spread like wildfire in Western media, until one of them turned up alive.
South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported last week that nuclear envoy Kim Hyok-chol had been executed and former spy chief Kim Yong-chol sent to a labor camp, because Trump had walked out of peace talks in Hanoi and rejected North Korean requests for limited sanctions relief.
The report spread far and wide, shared as proof that Trump’s diplomacy with Kim had failed. With Pyongyang tight-lipped as usual, the fate of the officials remained shrouded in mystery and the subject of breathless speculation.
On Tuesday, however, CNN reported that Kim Hyok-chol is in fact alive. Reporter Will Ripley cited anonymous sources to say that the official remains in custody and under investigation for his role in the failed summit, and could still face “heavy punishment.”
Another negotiator, Kim Song-hye, and translator Sin Hye-yong are also in custody, Ripley’s sources said.
The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Mnday that Kim Yong-chol had attended a concert the day before, with a photo of the official seated in the same row as Kim Jong-un. Ripley’s source said the former spy chief was being “kept silently in his office writing statements of self-criticism.”
With conflicting information coming from multiple anonymous sources, it is impossible to verify any of these claims, and CNN’s reporting may turn out to be as fake as Chosun Ilbo’s.