A harrowing report published in a South Korean newspaper claiming that a top North Korean official was executed and another was forced into hard labor after a failed summit with President Donald Trump earlier this year came under new scrutiny after a CNN report claimed that the supposedly executed negotiator is still alive.
Meanwhile, the diplomat reportedly banished appeared in public this week, accompanying Kim Jong Un to an art performance on Monday, according to state media.
Chosun Ilbo, the largest daily newspaper in South Korea, reported last week that North Korea's special envoy to the United States, Kim Hyok-chol, was killed by a firing squad in March after being accused of betraying the country's leader Kim Jong Un.
The paper, which cited an anonymous source, reported that four other officials were also executed and that Kim Yong-chol, who served as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's counterpart, was banished to perform hard labor.
But in an article published on Tuesday, CNN reported that Kim Hyok-chol was still alive and in custody. Kim Hyok-chol's ultimate sentence has not been determined, the outlet wrote. CNN cited unnamed sources and the report could not be independently confirmed by CNBC.
And on Monday, Kim Yong-chol was listed on a roster of officials accompanying Kim Jong un to an art performance, according to The New York Times.
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. On Friday, Pompeo said the department was reviewing the claims in Chosun Ilbo's report.
The daily has a spotty track record for reporting on its northern neighbor. The paper falsely reported that Ri Yong Gil, a former North Korean military chief, was executed in 2016. It also falsely reported that Hyon Song Wol, a North Korean singer, was executed in 2013.
In any case, the stature of both Kim Hyok-chol and Kim Yong-chol, two officials who had been at the highest echelon of North Korea's government, appears to be diminished. Kim Hyok-chol could still face "heavy punishment," one unnamed source told CNN. Kim Yong-chol, though not banished to hard labor, has been "kept silently in his office writing statements of self-criticism," according to CNN.
The summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un ended early and without an agreement in February after the White House said North Korea demanded an end to economic sanctions, a nonstarter in Washington.