A senior North Korean official who oversaw eminence grise Jang Song-taek’s and leader Kim Jong-un's private coffers is believed to have fled to China.
The official is rumored to have fled North Korea in September or October for reasons that remain unclear. It is unknown whether he sought asylum in China or is heading elsewhere.
Intelligence agencies are downplaying the story. National Intelligence Service chief Nam Jae-joon told lawmakers on Thursday that he was "completely unaware" of it. A high-ranking Foreign Ministry official said Seoul tried to verify the rumors through various overseas diplomatic missions, but there was a "strong possibility" that they are false.
One source familiar with North Korean affairs said if Pyongyang had probed and purged officials close to Jang, key confidants would already have been ordered to return to the North for arrest.
But other North Korea experts say the rumors could be true. A large number of Jang's cronies worked overseas to bring back hard currency and traveled often. They could have got wind of Jang’s imminent ouster and sought to defect.