The draconian punishments were handed down amid Kim’s frantic efforts to protect his regime and its economy against COVID-19, South Korea’s spy agency told politicians at a closed-door briefing on Friday.
South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) described the killings during a longer briefing on Kim’s coronavirus response, which they say has become increasingly erratic. They explained that Kim has locked down parts of the country, banned fishing at sea, tightened import restrictions and muzzled his representatives to avoid provoking the United States, according to lawmakers who were at the briefing.
The NIS also reported that North Korea tried and failed to hack South Korea for vaccine information.
Two officials later shared the details of the meeting with South Korean media.
The NIS said Kim is displaying “excessive anger” and taking “irrational measures” over the pandemic, lawmaker Ha Tae-keung told the Associated Press.
He said Kim had a high-profile currency trader executed over the country’s struggling exchange rate in October. He also relayed that an official was executed for bringing in goods from abroad, in violation of coronavirus customs rules.
The two executed officials’ names were not released.
Reports out of North Korea are difficult to independently verify due to Kim’s tight grip on all aspects of society. Most news emerges through the filter of South Korea, including the NIS, which has a spotty track record with its claims.
However, a capricious coronavirus killing would not be out of character for Kim.
The North Korean leader had his uncle brutally killed in 2013 and has presided over several other executive executions over the years, including one alleged case of death by flamethrower. He also had his half-brother, Kim Jong-Nam, assassinated with a nerve agent in Malaysia in 2017.
The country is expected to hold a military parade in January to flex its muscles for incoming U.S. president-elect Joe Biden, the NIS says.
North Korea claims that it has not found a single coronavirus case within its country’s borders to date.
—With files from the Associated Press and Reuters