Less than a month after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un executed his uncle Jang Song Thaek, reports are now circulating that his aunt, Jang’s wife, has died.
Chosun Ilbo, a major newspaper in South Korea, reported that Kim Kyong Hui, 67, has either "committed suicide or died from a heart attack" according to a South Korean government source. The newspaper said that South Korean intelligence sources have yet to confirm her death.
Kim Kyong Hui hasn’t been seen publicly since a Sept. 10 musical performance she attended with Kim Jong Un and his wife, Ri Sol Ju. It was presumed that she was safe after her husband's execution when she appeared on a list of top officials named to a funeral committee for a fellow senior Workers' Party official in mid December, according to the Associated Press. However, Chosun Ilbo reported that she was notably absent, possibly due to health issues, from a Dec. 17 ceremony commemorating the second anniversary of the death of her late brother, previous North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
According to The Telegraph, she traveled to Russia last month to be treated for heart complications.
"It would not come as a surprise if she is indeed dead," Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor at Tokyo's Waseda University and an authority on North Korean affairs, told The Telegraph. "She is not well, she has been treated for cancer, and the alcoholism dates back about 30 years."
South Korean news outlet Daily NK also reported on Dec. 18 that Kim was "in serious condition following a seizure," allegedly brought on by her husband's execution.
Kim Kyong Hui has held several top positions within her country’s government, including secretary of the ruling Workers' Party and a four-star army general, according to AP. She and Jang had one daughter who committed suicide in 2006 while studying in Paris.
Following her husband’s execution on Dec. 8, it was suggested that Kim was safe from persecution because she is the only daughter of North Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung, the current leader’s grandfather.
"If she is dead, then this is a serious problem for Kim Jong-un," Shigemura told The Telegraph. "As the sole daughter of the founder of the nation, she had both authority and legitimacy and she used that to protect Kim Jong-un's government. She was the sun and he was the moon."