The once-powerful uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been erased from an official documentary about the secretive state amid allegations of his involvement in corruption and "depraved" acts, such as womanising and drug abuse.
North Korean state television also aired separate, humiliating footage of the moment Jang Song-thaek, 67, was dragged from his chair by police in front of a packed auditorium of officials, the first such images released since the late 1970s of a purged official in North Korea.
Unconfirmed reports from Free North Korea Radio, a Seoul-based radio station run by North Korean defectors, suggest that Mr Jang and up to six of his officials may have been executed.
The disgraced statesman’s sacking means Pyongyang is undergoing its biggest leadership upheaval since the death in December 2011 of former leader Kim Jong-il, the father of Kim Jong-un.
Mr Jang, the one-time mentor to Kim Jong-un and long regarded as the second most powerful man in North Korea, has already been removed from official images and footage, while his name has been purged from previous news reports.
Mr Jang originally featured regularly in the propaganda documentary The Great Comrade, broadcast on North Korean state broadcaster KCTV in October. However, when the same documentary was aired again last week, Mr Jang had vanished from all scenes.
"Jang and his followers committed criminal acts baffling imagination and they did tremendous harm to our party and revolution," the North’s KCNA news agency said in a report following a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party politburo on Sunday.
The meeting decided to dismiss Mr Jang from all his posts and expel him from the Workers’ Party, KCNA said. Kim Jong-un attended and "guided" the meeting, it said.
KCNA listed a series of acts committed by Mr Jang that it said led to the decision to remove him, including mismanagement of the country’s financial system, corruption, womanising and abusing alcohol and drugs.
"Jang pretended to uphold the party and leader but was engrossed in such factional acts [such] as dreaming different dreams and involving himself in double-dealing behind the scene," KCNA said.
"Affected by the capitalist way of living, Jang committed irregularities and corruption and led a dissolute and depraved life.
"Ideologically sick and extremely idle and easy-going, he used drugs and squandered foreign currency at casinos while he was receiving medical treatment in a foreign country under the care of the party."
KCNA said that he had "improper relations" with several women and "was wined and dined at back parlours of deluxe restaurants".
He also was accused of hindering North Korea’s state-run production of iron, fertilisers and vinalon - a home-made synthetic fibre - by selling off resources at cheap prices and "throwing the state financial management system into confusion".
South Korea’s spy agency last week said it believed Mr Jang had been relieved of his posts in November. It is not clear when the photographs of Mr Jang being removed from the auditorium were taken.
The removal of Mr Jang from the documentary footage is not the first time North Korea has digitally altered images to serve its purposes.
In March this year, the secretive state was caught doctoring a photograph to double the number of hovercraft in a military exercise as part of its increasingly aggressive propaganda campaign.
The picture showed vessels with the same give-away shine on the front, moving through the water at an identical angle and throwing up spray that had been clumsily altered.
North Korea’s efforts to alter photographs follow an Iranian state news agency releasing a doctored image of a radar-dodging jet flying above snow-covered mountains in February.
The picture was immediately suspected to be a fake as the lighting on the aircraft and its position were similar to those in pictures on the ground in Tehran at its unveiling earlier in the month.
South Korean analysts predicted a sweeping purge would follow Mr Jang’s sacking, leaving Kim as the undisputed centre of power.
Mr Jang is married to Mr Kim’s aunt, the daughter of the North’s founding leader Kim Il-sung, and was widely considered to be working to ensure his nephew firmly established his grip on power in the past two years.
Analysts said Mr Jang’s main role had been to ensure a smooth transition after the inexperienced Mr Kim came to power following the death of his father.
But they said Mr Jang had become increasingly resented by the leader, who is aged about 30.
"Jong-un has built a solid power base for the past two years, and he no longer needed a regent who appeared to be increasingly powerful and threatening," said Paik Hak-soon, a researcher at the South’s Sejong Institute think tank.
Kim Jong-un’s uncle has fallen out of favour before. In 2004 he was understood to have undergone "re-education" as a steel mill labourer because of suspected corruption, but he made a comeback the following year.
Mr Jang expanded his influence rapidly after Kim Jong-il suffered a stroke in 2008, leaving his health impaired.
He was appointed vice-chairman of the nation’s top body, the National Defence Commission, in 2010.
His wife Kim Kyong-hui, Kim Jong-il’s sister, has also long been at the centre of power. She was promoted to four-star general at the same time as Kim Jong-un in 2010.
The pair were once viewed as the ultimate power couple in Pyongyang. But in the past year Kim Kyong-hui has been less visible, with reports that she was seriously ill and had sought hospital treatment in Singapore.
"This time, Jang is gone for good. He’ll never be allowed into politics again," Mr Paik sai
smh.com.au with Reuters, AFP