The Short Peripatetic Life of Kim Jong-nam

  • By Hwang Dae-jin

    February 15, 2017 11:01

    Kim Jong-nam, the estranged eldest son of former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, lived a restless, peripatetic life in exile since his half brother Kim Jong-un was earmarked to succeed their father in 2009.

    Kim Jong-nam drifted from Singapore to Macau, China and Malaysia, at once haunted by fears of assassination and the compulsions of his playboy lifestyle.

    His ties to North Korea's elite were apparently severed completely once his uncle Jang Song-taek was executed in 2013 and his aunt Kyong-hui lost power within the Workers Party.

    North Korean leader Kim Jong-il poses with his eldest son Jong-nam in this 1981 file picture.

    Jong-nam was sent to school in Moscow in 1980, when he was just nine years old, and the next year started international school in Switzerland, only to leave again two years later.

    In the 1990s, he was responsible for selling North Korean missiles overseas, but that role more or less ended when the U.S. froze any revenues he made. In 2001, he was caught trying to enter Japan on a forged passport, apparently to visit the local Disneyland, and fell out of his father's favor.

    One source said, "When Kim Jong-il was alive, Kim Jong-nam used to get a significant amount of money to cover his living expenses, but any support died with his father."

    There were rumors that Jong-nam felt his life was threatened when Kim Jong-un took power in 2012, prompting him to move to Singapore. He became a virtual recluse after his uncle was brutally executed in December 2013 and there were rumors that he sought asylum in South Korea at that time.

    But there were also rumors of a short visit to North Korea in 2012. According to some sources, Jong-nam met Jang in Pyongyang in 2012 where he was told to refrain from criticizing the succession.

    In interviews with a Japanese journalist, Jong-nam roundly criticized the regime, and there were intelligence reports that state security raided the homes and offices of officials in Pyongyang who were loyal to Jong-nam.

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