Several high-ranking North Korean officials favored by late leader Kim Jong-il have lost their positions in recent days. The most recent casualty was Pak Myong-chol (71), the sports minister and a sworn blood brother of the late leader.
The North's state-run radio on Wednesday introduced Ri Jong-mu, chairman of the national football association, as the new sports minister.
Pak's father was the spy Pak Jong-ho, a favorite of nation founder Kim Il-sung who was captured in South Korea and executed in 1959. Pak is also the son-in-law of professional Korean-Japanese wrestling legend Rikidozan or Yok Do-san.
When the spy was executed, Kim Il-sung pledged to take care of Pak and his brothers, which paved the way for Pak, who was a wrestler, to become an influential official in the sports ministry.
Kim Jong-il treated Pak like a brother. After he recovered from a massive stroke in August of 2008, the former leader appointed Pak councilor to the National Defense Commission in February 2009, sports minister in June 2010, member of the Workers Party's Central Committee in September 2010, and head of the North's Olympic Committee in November 2010.
Pak accompanied Kim Jong-il on his famous on-the-spot guidance tours across the country.
"The replacement of the sports minister is quite significant since it involves the sacking of a key official," said an informed source. The move is seen as part of young North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's attempts to distance himself from his father's legacy.
Jon Il-chun, the former head of an agency managing the leader's private coffers known as Room 39 and a key confidant of Kim Jong-il, has also disappeared from the radar. Jon went to school with Kim Jong-il. He is believed to have been sacked when Kim Jong-un came to power.
Army chief Ri Yong-ho, who was among Kim Jong-il most trusted officials, was ousted in July. "Ri was like a private military tutor appointed by Kim Jong-il to help Jong-un stand on his own feet," said a government official here. "The fact that Ri was sacked so soon shows how much Kim Jong-un wants to emerge from his father's shadow."