Retired US professional basketball player Dennis Rodman says North Korean leader Kim Jong-un did not order his uncle's execution, a website reported on Monday.
The eccentric Rodman, 52, who conducted his latest self-styled round of “basketball diplomacy” in January, told DuJour magazine that Kim's uncle, Jang Song-thaek, is still alive.
He claimed to have seen Jang and others who have been reported killed during his most recent visit to the country.
Jang's death was reported in December by South Korea's Yonhap News Agency and strongly criticised by the US State Department.
He had been accused of treason, and his execution was believed to be part of the purge of an anti-party and anti-revolutionary faction.
North Korea has never confirmed the execution. Rodman, who said he considers Kim Jong-un a “friend for life”, made headlines when he staged an exhibition basketball game featuring former NBA players for Kim's birthday in January.
Rodman told DuJour that Kim wants to talk to US President Barack Obama “to try to open that door a little bit”.
Kim does not want to bomb anybody or kill Americans, Rodman said, and only seeks nuclear weapons to approach the United States on a level playing field.
Rodman's first trip to North Korea was in February 2013. Since then, he says he's visited six times, according to DuJour.
That has made him a potential source of information about the hermit country.
However, the former member of championship teams while playing for the Detroit Pistons and the Chicago Bulls has been criticised as a dupe and for giving Pyongyang an opportunity to spread propaganda.
The US State Department has not treated any of his trips seriously, nor said they could help diplomacy between the US and North Korea.
Rodman said the US government has threatened to revoke his passport. “They're afraid of me because I know so much,” Rodman said.
“I'm just telling what I see. I have that leverage now that no one in the world has.” - Sapa-dpa