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Exclusive: N. Korean Sports Official Dismisses Purge Rumor

  • Baik Sungwon

FILE - Chang Ung, North Korean member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

FILE - Chang Ung, North Korean member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

A high-level North Korean sports figure rumored to have been purged by the government has told VOA that the media speculation is “completely absurd.”

Chang Ung, a North Korean representative to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), was on the list of high-ranking officials who might have been purged by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, according to recent media reports.

One South Korean daily said Chang missed a recent meeting where Kim greeted athletes who won gold medals at the recent Asian Games in South Korea. The report added that Chang had close ties to Mr. Kim’s uncle, Jang Song Thaek, who was executed last year.

However, Chang dismissed the reports.

“I was accused of being a traitor who betrayed the nation. I am not bothered by the accusation but it is completely absurd. This is nothing but a public stunt,” said Chang in a rare interview last Friday.

Chang was in Vienna when VOA reached him by phone.

Some press reports speculated that Chang might have embezzled IOC funds and hidden the money in overseas accounts.

Chang firmly refuted the corruption allegation.

“The accusations against me over the use of IOC funds are totally groundless. Whoever wrote the story does not understand how IOC funds are distributed,” Chang argued.

Because of the secretive nature of the North Korean regime, foreign media reports frequently speculate on promotions or purges in Pyongyang. Changes inside the Stalinist nations often take weeks or longer to become confirmed or refused for the outside world.

The 76-year-old sports official also heads the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF), a North Korea-led international body of the Korean martial art.

The organization has competed for international recognition with the South Korea-based World Taekwondo Federation (WTF), but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) only recognizes the South Korea-led Taekwondo group, barring athletes of the North Korean body from competing in the Olympics.

Recently, the two organizations reached an agreement which will allow athletes of the North Korean-led body to participate in the Olympics, a rare case of cooperation between North and South Korea.

“We are ready for talks with the WTF and the IOC to finalize details of the agreement. Our organization is targeting for the [2016] Rio Olympics,” said Chang.

Chang said he supports a bid by the head of the South Korean Taekwondo body to become a member of the IOC.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Korean service.