North Korean leader Kim Jong-il made his last public appearance at the country's first supermarket in Pyongyang last Thursday. The North's official Korean Central News Agency illustrated the visit on Saturday with several photos while apparently trying to decide the appropriate time to announce his death.
Kim's final so-called on-the-spot guidance tour was to the Kwangbok street shopping center, where he was accompanied by Jon Il-chun, a high school classmate and chief of a special department in the Workers Party codenamed Room 39 that manages Kim's private coffers.
A South Korean security official said Jon's presence during the visit suggests the profits from the supermarket were to go straight into Kim's private coffers.
Ri Chol, the chairman of a committee trying to attract Chinese investment to the Stalinist country, is seen in the same photo. He had been the regime's ambassador to Geneva for 30 years until he took over the committee last year, as well as a close aide to Kim looking after his slush funds.
A Unification Ministry official said Ri's presence indicates that the supermarket was built with Chinese investment. "We believe that Kim ordered the supermarket to be set up after he toured a shopping center in Yangzhou in China in May," the official added.
The Chinese-style name meaning "shopping center" for the supermarket backs up this speculation.
A former senior North Korean official who defected to South Korea said, "Kim must have learned something from his visit to China, including about Chinese reforms, but the problem is that he never thinks about how to improve people's lives but always just makes superficial improvements for the sake of his own welfare and safety."
Among Chinese goods Kim imported for his own purposes were electric carts. On May 3 last year, Chinese officials provided an electric cart for him who visited a locomotive and rolling stock company in Dalian, and lately similar carts are used to ferry him around when he provided on-the-spot guidance at bigger facilities.
Sources said he apparently considered them essential because he had trouble walking since a stroke in 2008.