One of the Kim Jong Il regime core officials, First Vice Director of the Guidance Department of the Central Committee of the Party Lee Jeh Kang reportedly died in a car accident early on June 2nd.
The state-controlled radio station, Chosun Central Broadcast reported yesterday, “First Vice Director of the Guidance Department of the Central Committee and Supreme People’s Assembly delegate Comrade Lee Jeh Kang was killed in a car accident at 00:45 on the 2nd, aged 80.” The broadcast went on, “Comrade Lee Jeh Kang devoted his life and all his passion to heightening the strength of Party organizations according to the requirements of the strong and prosperous state, and to establishing the unique leadership system of the Party.”
The announcement of Lee’s death comes as a shock, since earlier on the same day Chosun Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that Lee had been one of those who accompanied Kim Jong Il at a performance by the art propaganda team of Unit 963 of the Korean People’s Army.
In terms of power, not official authority, Lee was ranked second in the country alongside Jang Sung Taek and behind Kim Jong Il.
Lee’s former department, the Guidance Department of the Central Committee of the Party is a key organization within the Party, taking responsibility for personnel management of military and Party cadres, cabinet members and high officials in other key apparatus of state. The director’s position has been officially vacant for a long time, so Kim Jong Il fills the role.
According to experts, First Vice Director Lee had been personally responsible for personnel management in the Party, the General Political Department of the Korean People’s Army and the judiciary, but after Jang Sung Taek returned to the Central Committee in 2008, he only focused on the Party.
The question of who will fill this unexpected vacancy is an immediate point of interest. If there is no new appointment, it is possible that Jang Sung Taek will take on Lee’s role, as it was when Jang Sung Taek was dismissed from the First Vice Director’s position in 2004; at that time, Lee took on Jang’s power.
Subsequently, however, after the National Defense Commission was reinforced and Jang Sung Taek returned to the Party fold, experts believe that Lee’s authority shrank and the role of Kim Jong Eun’s major backer was also filled by Jang.
Lee Jeh Kang was also a major supporter of Ko Young Hee, Kim Jong Eun’s mother, and maneuvered, apparently successfully, for one of her sons to become the successor while she was alive.
Lee entered public office as manager of the Guidance Department of the Central Committee in 1973, and became one of Kim Jong Il’s secretaries in 1982. Since 2001, he has been First Vice Director of the Guidance Department.
Meanwhile, Lee’s son-in-law, Cha Cheol Ma is a well known in North Korea as a wealthy figure who has come to almost monopolize foreign currency earning business affiliated with the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly. According to rumors circulating in North Korean society at the time, he was worth more than ten million dollars in around 2006.