WASHINGTON - Former basketball star Dennis Rodman claims North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un did not execute his uncle and that he saw him during a recent trip to the Stalinist state.
In an interview with DuJour magazine, the retired athlete known for his tattoos, piercings and flamboyant ways insisted the uncle was still alive, even though North Korean state media reported that Jang Song-Thaek was executed in December for "anti-state acts."
"You could say anything here about North Korea and people would believe it," Rodman said.
"The last time I went there, when they said they killed his girlfriend, they killed his uncle, they just fed him to the dogs... They were standing right behind me."
The journalist conducting the interview then asked him to clarify, pointing out that the North Korean regime has made clear the uncle was executed -- but Rodman repeated the claim.
"He was standing right there," Rodman said.
Rodman has been accused of being duped by the Pyongyang regime and pandering to the North Korean leader, singing "Happy Birthday" to Kim at an exhibition basketball game and dismissing evidence of rampant rights abuses and repression.
Rodman said Kim wants to hold discussions with President Barack Obama and has told him the North has nuclear weapons because it is a small country that has to defend itself.
"He really, really wants to talk to Obama. He can't say it enough," Rodman said.
"He's saying that he doesn't want to bomb anybody. He said, 'I don't want to kill Americans.' He loves Americans."
Kim's uncle, considered a mentor to the young supreme leader, was arrested, swiftly tried for treason and executed on December 12, according to state media.
The North appears to be preparing to stage a fourth nuclear test in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions, arms experts and US officials say.
Rodman described dining with Kim on a huge yacht and said the North Korean leader was ecstatic when he proposed staging an exhibition game in his honor.
Kim "jumped up in the air, started clapping and telling everybody, 'Oh my God! He's throwing a basketball game for me!'" Rodman said.
The former power forward said Kim's wife dresses more fashionably than other Korean women.
She "likes Gucci, Versace. She dressed really cool," Rodman said.
The North Korean leader is reported to be a huge fan of basketball and especially of the Chicago Bulls, with whom Rodman won three NBA titles alongside Michael Jordan in the 1990s.
Rodman prompted outrage in January when he suggested in an interview with CNN that a Korean-American Christian tour operator was to blame for his imprisonment in North Korea.
He later apologized and blamed his outburst on heavy drinking, checking into a rehab facility in New Jersey.
Of his alcoholism, Rodman has said: "I've always been a party animal (and) the reason I drink is because I'm bored."