April 18, 2011 13:01
When Kim Jong-chol, the second son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, spent 10 leisurely days in Singapore in February going on a luxury shopping spree and attending an Eric Clapton concert, he was apparently joined by a brat pack of children of powerful officials in North Korea.
An official source here said Sunday intelligence information reveals Kim Jong-chol (30) and members of the so-called Ponghwajo or torch group not only visited Singapore, but also went to Macao and Malaysia to gamble and shop.
The Ponghwajo consists of the regime's princelings, not to be confused with the children of early high-ranking officials who fought as revolutionaries along with former North Korean leader Kim Il-sung. These sons of the revolutionaries are now in their 50s and 60s and have recently been tapped to serve in key positions under North Korea's heir apparent Kim Jong-un.
But the Ponghwajo are in their 30s and 40s and are not viewed favorably by the regime's leadership. Though they are often engaged in activities that generate dollar revenues through drug sales, counterfeiting and black market trade, they apparently do not wield much political power.
The group was formed in the early 2000s by O Se-won, the son of Gen. O Kuk-ryol, a senior leader in North Korea's powerful National Defense Commission, and Kim Chol, the son of Kim Won-hong, head of the People's Army Security Command. Its members include Ri Il-hyok, the first son of Ri Chol, former North Korean ambassador to Switzerland and the official in charge of handling Kim Jong-il's secret bank accounts, as well as Kang Tae-seung, the eldest son of First Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok-ju and Jo Song-ho, the eldest son of the late Jo Myong-rok, first vice chairman of the National Defense Commission who died last year.
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