Choe Sung-chul disappeared from public sight early last year amid reports that he was removed from office for corruption.
Other North Korea experts said that he was killed because of the failure of the “sunshine policy” with the South.
The Sunshine policy refers to a process of incremental steps taken by the two Koreas to improve relations that was started in 1998 by then South Korean President Kim Dae Jung.
It led to two historic summits in 2000 and 2007 between North and South Korean leaders and to tentative economic and trade relations, including the creation of the Kaesong industrial zone.
The policy was halted in 2008 when Lee Myung-bak was elected. As South Korea’s new president he placed conditions on continued aid and bilateral talks such as ending North Korea’s nuclear programme.
According to unofficial sources, Choe Sung-chul became the scapegoat for cooler North-South relations, accused of making the “wrong” predictions about the open dialogue policy, which did not provide Pyongyang whit the expected outcomes, and for the shift in policy by the current conservative president.
South Korean authorities have not officially confirmed the news. In a meeting with journalists South Korea’s Unification minister said he could not substantiate the information.
However, North Korea has a record of punishing officials for wrong policy outcomes. In 1997 Soe Gwan-hee, secretary of the agricultural department, was held responsible and then executed for the famine that hit North Korea during the 1990s causing untold hardships for millions of North Koreans.
Choe Sung-chul seems to have received the same treatment for the failure of the dialogue policy with the South.
An anonymous South Korean official also said that the whole thing might be counter-information in the current situation that sees North Korea threatening to shut down the Kaesong industrial complex.