The minister of the People's Armed Forces in North Korea was recently executed as a "traitor" for showing disrespect for its top leader, Kim Jong Un, South Korean intelligence officials announced on Wednesday.
The minister, General Hyon Yong Chol, was believed to have been executed with an anti-aircraft gun in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, around April 30th, officials from the National Intelligence Service told South Korean MPs during a closed parliamentary session.
Mr Kim deemed Mr Hyon disloyal after he dozed off during military events and second-guessed Mr Kim's orders, the intelligence officials were quoted as saying by two MPs at the parliamentary hearing.
Mr Hyon, one of the most senior military officials in the secretive country, has disappeared from North Korea’s state-run news media since late April.
The National Intelligence Service referred any queries from the news media to the two MPs, Lee Cheol Woo and Shin Kyoung Min.
Mr Kim has been purging North Korea's elites as he has struggled to establish his authority since the death of his father, the longtime dictator Kim Jong Il, in late 2011.
It was not clear how the South Korean spy agency acquired information on Mr Hyon’s supposed execution.
Last month, the agency told the parliamentary intelligence committee that North Korea had executed 15 high-ranking government officials, including two vice ministers, this year.
Information the spy agency has provided during closed parliamentary hearings has been considered reliable. But analysts also cautioned that gathering verifiable data on the inner workings of the North Korean government is difficult.
When Mr Kim’s father died in 2011, South Korean intelligence officials were not aware of it until Pyongyang announced the news two days later.
Cheong Seong Chang, a senior analyst at the Sejong Institute in South Korea, accused the spy agency of being "rash" in publicising "unverified intelligence" on the possible execution of Mr Hyon.
South Korean officials said Kim, who is believed to be in his early 30s, was resorting to a mix of terror and rewards to thwart any challenge to his leadership. He was believed to have ordered the execution of 68 senior officials, some by machine gun, from 2012 to last year, according to the South Korean spy agency. The reasons given included failure to follow through with Mr Kim’s orders or raising questions about his decisions.
In 2013, an uncle of Mr Kim’s, Jang Song Thaek, long considered the second most powerful man in North Korea, was executed, accused of stealing state funds and plotting to overthrow Mr Kim.
Mr Hyon has been one of many generals whose fortunes have appeared to be fluctuate to Kim’s whim. The general’s status seemed to soar in 2013, when he became vice marshal as chief of the general staff of the North Korean People’s Army.
He did not last long in that post, however, as he was soon demoted to general. He resurfaced as the head of the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces in June.