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How a Supreme Guard Command officer found himself in front of a firing squad

On Sept. 24, 2020, a high-ranking official in the Supreme Guard Command (SGC), the military branch responsible for the protection of the Kim family, was publicly executed on the anniversary of the command’s establishment. The official in question, a man named Lee of the SGC’s Department 55, had been suddenly arrested and executed by the Ministry of State Security under orders from Kim Jong Un.

Department 55 of the Supreme Guard Command has a command office located directly beneath the chollima (flying horse) statue in Pyongyang’s Moranbong district. The department is tasked with managing the underground tunnels stretching from the famous Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il statues on Mansudae Hill (Central District) to the Revolutionary Martyrs’ Cemetery (Taesong District).

In the case of war or a similar emergency, the tunnels are equipped with an automatic system to lower the statues of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, and Kim Jong Suk (Kim Il Sung’s first wife) underground for division and protection.

So why was Lee, who was the top official responsible for the tunnel site, suddenly arrested and executed by the Ministry of State Security?

In January 2020, the Supreme Guard Command’s stock of various wartime emergency supplies, including lighting, fan engines, and gasoline, was transferred to Department 55. Director Lee was then put in charge of meticulously dividing up and storing these essential war supplies. 

In early February, Lee received orders to comprehensively inspect and repair the tunnels. Lee then oversaw and directed the inspection of the underground structures. 

However, in mid-June – just four months later – agents from the SGC branch of the Ministry of State Security stormed the Department 55 office beneath the chollima statue. Lee was arrested on the spot and carted off in a truck to the SGC’s military prison management unit.

State security officials refused to explain to Lee why he had been arrested. Lee was held in the SGC’s holding facilities for over ten days, during which he endured torture and was deprived of both food and sleep.

One night, eleven days after his sudden arrest, the investigator tasked with dealing with high-level level prisoners finally spoke with Lee. 

The investigator abruptly asked Lee: “You were told to inspect and repair [the tunnels], weren’t you? Did they tell you to go wild and use up the wartime fuel, too?”

Upon hearing these words, Lee began to get a vague sense of why he had been arrested. He replied, “Electricity for Department 55 isn’t as good as it used to be, and we often don’t get any. Normally, we can carry out our work using just one small DC light bulb for every 10 meters of tunnel. However, every three years when we do comprehensive inspections, we need to install more lights than usual. We can’t power all of those lights with the fuel we are regularly provided, so we had no choice but to use wartime fuel [to conduct inspections].”

The MSS official, however, paid no heed to Lee’s explanation. The official accused Lee of failing to comply with regulations regarding the use and maintenance of wartime fuel and of secretly leaking secrets about the design and layout of the tunnels. The official brutally tortured Lee until he gave in and wrote a confession taking responsibility by association for failing to properly maintain the tunnels.

During this time, the incident was reported to Kim Jong Un, who passed down orders for Lee to be publicly punished for his wrongdoing. Soon after, on Sept. 24 (the anniversary of the Supreme Guard Command’s establishment), Lee was brought forth for a public trial and executed by firing squad at the SGC 37th Brigade’s firing range in Pyongyang’s Samsok district.

Speculation emerges about Lee’s death

In the wake of the incident, the Supreme Guard Command submitted a proposal to reorganize the department, replacing all of the personnel and technical equipment in Department 55. As a result, the commanders who had worked alongside Lee were sent out to SGC brigades in the provinces, and the staff of Department 55 was filled with personnel from completely different technical departments. The department was effectively spun off into a separate division under the direct control of the Supreme Guard Commander.

Sometime later, Lee’s former colleagues remarked that “it seems like there had already been plans in place to break up Department 55 and turn it into a top-secret department staffed with only the most trustworthy personnel. Such a shame that a commander [Lee] died [for it to happen].”

On the other hand, high-level officials within the Supreme Guard Command speculated that “there were plans to bring in new talent and install new automated equipment, tracks, and passages, so the former managers who knew the old system back and forth were done for. The director of Department 55 [Lee] was as good as dead either way.”

Other officials speculated on more personal reasons for Lee’s fate, pointing out that “people need to be a bit flexible to survive, but [Lee] grew up in a poor farming household and made his way to his position through skill, so he was too straightlaced and didn’t know how to properly kiss up to his superiors. Perhaps that’s why he got taken out on SGC establishment day.”

Translated by Rose Adams. Edited by Robert Lauler.

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Read in Korean

February 27, 2024 at 05:30AM

by DailyNK(North Korean Media)

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