March 11, 2010 11:15
North Korea's influential ambassador in Geneva will reportedly leave his post after 30 years in Switzerland. Ri Chol (75) is believed to have handled North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's secret bank accounts as well as looking after his children when they went to school there and consulting doctors on Kim's behalf.
It is not clear why Ri is leaving. "I guess that his advanced age and his long stay in Switzerland were taken into consideration," a diplomatic source said. "The decision may also have something to do with the succession" of Kim Jong-un, Kim's third son and heir apparent.
Ri began working in 1980 as a minister at the permanent mission in Geneva and became ambassador to Switzerland in 1988. He also assumed the post of ambassador to the Netherlands and Liechtenstein in 2001.
A North Korean source said, "All of Kim Jong-il's three sons [Jong-nam, Jong-chol, and Jong-un] went to school in Switzerland, and Ri, as one of the most trusted aides to Kim, took care of them there."
Under Ri's care, Jong-un reportedly lived with his younger sister Yo-jong in a three-story townhouse in the outskirts of Bern and attended a public school from August 1998 until autumn in 2000. Ri has also attracted attention as a caretaker of Kim senior's secret funds.
In April 2006, Christopher Hill, the then U.S. assistant secretary of state, was quoted by the Washington Times as saying that it would be possible to investigate Kim Jong-il's Swiss bank accounts worth US$4 billion if the North continued to boycott the six-party nuclear talks. Ri issued a denial, calling the claim "preposterous."
But in December 2008, the French daily Le Figaro reported that Geneva played a dual role as a place for North Korea's management of secret funds and its window to the world. And since 1991, Ri played a key role in bringing French medical teams to the North to treat both the late Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, the daily added.
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