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Kim Jong-nam

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For other people with the same name, see Kim Jeong-nam. Not to be confused with North Korean politician Kim Yong-nam.
This is a Korean name; the family name is Kim.
Kim Jong-nam
Kim jong nam.jpg
Kim Jong-nam in 2001, during his high-profile detention at Narita International Airport.
Personal details
Born (1970-06-10)10 June 1970[1]
Pyongyang, North Korea
Died 13 February 2017(2017-02-13) (aged 46)
Sepang, Selangor, Malaysia
Cause of death Suspected assassination
Nationality North Korean
Political party Workers' Party of Korea
Spouse(s) Shin Jong-hui
Relations Kim Jong-il (father)
Song Hye-rim (mother)
Kim Il-sung (grandfather)
Kim Sul-song (paternal sister)
Kim Jong-un (paternal brother)
Kim Jong-chul (paternal brother)
Children 6, including Kim Han-sol
Residence Macau
Alma mater Kim Il-sung University
Military service
Allegiance  North Korea
Service/branch Korean People's Army
Kim Jong-nam
Chosŏn'gŭl 김정남
Hancha 金正男
Revised Romanization Gim Jeong-nam
McCune–Reischauer Kim Chŏng-nam

Kim Jong-nam (Chosŏn'gŭl김정남; Hancha金正男, 10 June 1970 – 13 February 2017) was the eldest son of Kim Jong-il, leader of North Korea from 1994 until his death in 2011. From roughly 1994 to 2001, he was considered the heir apparent to his father.[2] Following a much-publicized failed attempt to enter Japan using a fake passport and visit Tokyo Disneyland in May 2001, he was thought to have fallen out of favor with his father.

Kim Jong-nam was exiled from North Korea around 2003, becoming an occasional critic of his family's regime and an advocate for reform.[3] His younger paternal half-brother, Kim Jong-un, was named heir apparent in September 2010.[4] Kim Jong-nam died in Malaysia in February 2017 under suspicious circumstances; he is believed to have been poisoned by two women, speculated to be North Korean agents, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.[1]

Life and career

Early life

Kim Jong-nam was born in Pyongyang, to Song Hye-rim, one of three women known to have had children with Kim Jong-il. Because Kim Jong-il aimed to keep his affair with Song a secret due to the disapproval of his father Kim Il-sung, he initially kept Kim Jong-nam out of school, instead sending him to live with Song's older sister Song Hye-rang, who tutored him at home.[5]

Kim Jong-nam is reported to have had a personality similar to that of his father, and was described by his aunt as being "hot-tempered, sensitive, and gifted in the arts".[6] The same aunt also said in 2000 that Jong-nam "[did] not wish to succeed his father".[6] Like Kim Jong-il, he was interested in film: he wrote scripts and short films from a young age.[6] His father also created a small movie set for him to use.[6]

Kim Jong-nam made several clandestine visits to Japan, starting as early as 1995.[6] Kim Jong-nam became regular guest at a bathhouse in Yoshiwara, one of Tokyo's red light districts.[6]

1998–2001: Heir apparent

In 1998, Kim Jong-nam was appointed to a senior position in the Ministry of Public Security of the DPRK, as a future leader.[7] He was also reported to have been appointed head of the DPRK Computer Committee, in charge of developing an information technology (IT) industry. In January 2001, he accompanied his father to Shanghai, where he had talks with Chinese officials on the IT industry.[7]

2001: Tokyo Disneyland incident

In May 2001, Kim was arrested in Japan on arrival at Narita International Airport, accompanied by two women and a four-year-old boy identified as his son. He was traveling on a forged Dominican Republic passport using a Chinese alias, Pang Xiong,[8] which could mean "fat bear" in Mandarin Chinese.[9] After being detained he was deported to China,[10] where he said he was traveling to Japan to visit Tokyo Disneyland.[7] The incident caused his father to cancel a planned visit to China due to the embarrassment it caused him.[7]

2001–2005: Loss of favor

Until the Tokyo incident, Kim was expected to become leader of the country after his father. In February 2003, the Korean People's Army began a propaganda campaign under the slogan "The Respected Mother is the Most Faithful and Loyal Subject to the Dear Leader Comrade Supreme Commander." This was interpreted as praise of Ko Young-hee, such that the campaign was designed to promote Kim Jong-chul or Kim Jong-un, her sons.[11]

It is believed that Kim Jong-un, Jong-nam's youngest half-brother, became the new heir apparent due to this incident.[12] Since the loyalty of the army is the real foundation of the Kim family's continuing hold on power in the DPRK, this was a serious development for Kim Jong-nam's prospects.[12] In late 2003, it was reported that Kim Jong-nam was living in Macau, lending strength to this belief.[13]

Kim Jong-un was left in charge while his father was on a state visit to China.[12] Outsider observers also believed North Korea's sinking of a South Korean ship in March 2010 was part of a Byzantine attempt to secure succession for the youngest Kim.[12]

Kim said he fell out of favour because he had become an advocate for reform after being educated in Switzerland, leading his father to decide that he had turned "into a capitalist". In an email to the editor of the Tokyo Shimbun, Kim wrote "After I went back to North Korea following my education in Switzerland, I grew further apart from my father because I insisted on reform and market-opening and was eventually viewed with suspicion," adding "My father felt very lonely after sending me to study abroad. Then my half brothers Jong-chol and Jong-un and half sister Yo-jong were born and his adoration was moved on to them. And when he felt that I'd turn into a capitalist after living abroad for years, he shortened the overseas education of my brothers and sister."[14]

2005–2017: Rise of Kim Jong-un

It was reported in the South China Morning Post on 1 February 2007, that Kim Jong-nam had been living incognito with his family in Macau, for some three years, and that this was a cause of some embarrassment to both the Macanese and Chinese governments.[15][16]

South Korean television and the South China Morning Post reported in 2007 that Kim Jong-nam had a Portuguese passport. However, Portuguese authorities and the Portuguese consul in Macau, Pedro Moitinho de Almeida, stated that if Kim had such a document it would be a forgery.[17]

In January 2009, Kim Jong-nam said he had "no interest" in taking power in North Korea after his father, stating that it is only for him to decide.[18]

In June 2010, Kim Jong-nam gave a brief interview to the Associated Press in Macau while waiting for a hotel elevator.[19] He said that he had "no plans" to defect to Europe, as the press had recently rumoured.[19] Kim Jong-nam lived in an apartment on the southern tip of Macau's Coloane Island until 2007.[20] An anonymous South Korean official reported in October 2010 that Jong-nam had not lived in Macau for "months", and shuttled between China and "another country."[20]

In late September 2010, his younger half-brother Kim Jong-un was made heir-apparent.[21][22] Kim Jong-un was declared Supreme Leader of North Korea on 24 December 2011 after the death of Kim Jong-il.

On 1 January 2012, it was reported that Kim Jong-nam secretly flew to Pyongyang from Macau on 17 December 2011, after learning about his father's death that day and was presumed to have accompanied Kim Jong-un when paying his last respects to their father. He left after a few days to return to Macau and was not in attendance at the funeral to avoid speculation about the succession.[23]

On 14 January 2012, Kim Jong-nam was seen in Beijing waiting for an Air China flight to Macau. Kim confirmed his identity to a group of South Koreans which included a professor at Incheon University, and told them he usually travels alone.[24]

In a book released in 2012 titled My Father, Kim Jong Il, and Me by Japanese journalist Yoji Gomi who had interviewed Kim Jong-nam on numerous occasions, Kim Jong-nam said he expected the leadership of Kim Jong-un to fail, citing that he was too inexperienced and young. He also stated, "Without reforms, North Korea will collapse, and when such changes take place, the regime will collapse."[25]


On 14 February 2017, several reports emerged that Kim was assassinated in Malaysia by two unidentified women, speculated to be North Korean agents,[26][27][28] during his return trip to Macau at the low-cost carrier terminal of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.[29][30] As the individual in question was travelling in Malaysia under the pseudonym "Kim Chol", Malaysian officials did not immediately formally confirm that Kim Jong-nam was the man killed; however, the South Korean government has said it is certain Kim Jong-nam was the deceased.[31] According to NHK, South Korean intelligence officials confirmed that the dead man is indeed Kim Jong-nam, as the body's fingerprints matched Kim's, which had been previously obtained by the South Korean intelligence agency.[32]

Malaysian police confirmed Kim died while being transferred from the airport to the Putrajaya Hospital, but said the cause was not yet known.[33][27] Initial reporting mentioned some form of poisoned spray[34] or needles[35] being used. Malaysian police official Fadzil Ahmat said that Kim had alerted a receptionist, saying "someone had grabbed him from behind and splashed a liquid on his face", also telling Bernama that a woman "covered [Kim's] face with a cloth laced with a liquid".[36] The South Korean National Intelligence Service, as well as various unnamed agencies of the U.S. government, believe that Kim was poisoned by his enemies.[31] If confirmed, it would be the most high-profile death linked to North Korea since Jang Sung-taek was executed in 2013.[37]

Malaysian officials have claimed that North Korean officials in the country objected to any form of autopsy being conducted on Kim's body,[38] but the autopsy proceeded as they did not submit a formal protest.[39] A post-mortem on Kim was conducted on 15 February at the Kuala Lumpur Hospital mortuary in the presence of several North Korean officials,[40] and concluded the following day, formally confirming the identity of Kim's body, although further information is not expected to be released until the completion of the autopsy report.[39]

Following North Korea's request to retrieve the body, Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi responded that it will only be returned once the post-mortem is done, and that there are "some procedures" that need to be followed by the North Korean government.[41] The minister added the body would be released to the next-of-kin or the North Korean embassy in the country.[42] Malaysian Selangor State police chief Abdul Samah Mat also said the body will only be released if his family provided a DNA sample to be used to identify that the dead person is Kim Jong-nam.[43] A government official report stated that his second wife in Macau has approached the Chinese government to help in claiming the body.[44]

As the first post-mortem results were inconclusive, Malaysia is reported to launch a second post-mortem on the body.[45] The North Korean side continue their protest for any form of autopsy and told that Malaysia has promised earlier to release the body if a proper paperwork had been submitted by them.[41] Following Malaysia's refusal, the country ambassador Kang Chol had accused Malaysia of collaborating with the country enemies over the assassination of Kim Jong-nam and doubt whether the Malaysian side decision was influenced by its rival of South Korea.[46] The ambassador said they would reject the outcome of the post-mortem conducted “on its citizen without permission” and perceive the decision as a “violation of human rights” thus will lodge a report to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).[47]

Malaysian Inspector General of Police (IGP) Khalid Abu Bakar has called North Korea to respect the country law regarding the post-mortem. Selangor State police chief Abdul Samah Mat however have denied rumours of a second post-mortem to be conducted on the body, stating such condition will require a court order and said until now only the North Korean embassy are the one who wanted to claim the body with the Malaysian Deputy IGP Noor Rashid Ibrahim said the family of the victim second wife have not come forward to requesting the body and all of them have not been seen at their home in Macau since his death as been reported by South Korean media.[48][49]

Alleged assassins and motivation

Kim had been targeted for assassination in the past. In late 2012, Kim Jong-nam appeared in Singapore one year after leaving Macau.[50] He left Macau on suspicions that he was being targeted for assassination by Kim Jong-un; South Korean authorities had formerly indicted a North Korean agent by the name of Kim Yong-su who confessed to planning an attack on Kim Jong-nam in July 2010.[51]

Following Kim's death, Malaysian police arrested a woman at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in connection to the attack on 14 February 2017. The woman, a 28-year-old named Đoàn Thị Hương, was in possession of Vietnamese travel documentation.[31] Đoàn was identified through CCTV footage.[38] Malaysian police say they are looking for "a few" other suspects in connection to the alleged murder.[31] On 16 February, a 25-year-old woman named Siti Aishah with Indonesian travel documentation was arrested in connection to the case and identified as the second female suspect.[52] Aishah's boyfriend, a 26-year-old Malaysian named Muhammad Farid Bin Jalaluddin, was also arrested to assist in the investigation.[39]

The first female suspect told police that she was instructed by four men who were travelling with her and her travelling companion to spray the victim with an unidentified liquid while her companion held and covered the victim's face with a handkerchief as part of a prank. The woman claimed that after she returned to look for the four men and her companion, they had all already disappeared, and thus she decided to head back to the airport the next day.[53] The second female suspect also told police that she thought the stunt was part of a television prank and did not know the identity of their target; she was previously approached by several individuals who she thought were a film crew in a nightclub where she worked in the Malaysian capital and was offered $100 to do the prank.[54]

Following a recorded statement from both of the women, Malaysian authorities began to hunt the four men and increase the security in every exit points, and said there could be a possibility the assassination was orchestrated by North Korean agents with both of the women used as scapegoats.[55][56] One of the four men was arrested on 17 February, the suspect identified as a 46-year-old man named Ri Jong-chol was caught in a condominium with North Korean travel documentation.[47][57] The suspect are found to be a chemical experts but still not confirmed to be the one who make the poison.[58]

Based on an unnamed intelligence source, North Korean spies are reported to have been actively operating in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia over the last two decades; with Malaysia and Singapore being the preferred choice of the Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB) to conduct intelligence gathering and surveillance to targeting Japanese and South Korean politicians, diplomats, top corporate figures and businessmen who visited or were based in these countries.[59]

Questions have been raised over North Korea's motivation for such an attack.[60] The South Korean National Intelligence Service Director Lee Byung-ho told South Korean members of parliament that the government of North Korea had wanted to kill Kim for several years, but that he was being protected by China. However, analysts question what motive Kim Jong-un would have to murder Jong-nam, given the risk of the operation, possibilities for embarrassment, and the fact that he was not seen as a threat to the leadership of North Korea.[31] Former North Korean female agent Kim Hyon-hui also told that both of the women caught and alleged as assassin do not fit the profile of a professional secret agent and she was highly suspicious of the theory that the two women were North Korea-trained agents as been alleged by certain investigators.[61]

On 19 February, Malaysian police said they are looking for four more North Korean suspects in connection with the murder.[62] The four are identified as Rhi Ji-hyon (aged 33), Hong Song Hac (34), O Jong-gil (55) and Ri Jae-nam (57); all of which have leaving Malaysia after the attack with Malaysian police are now began to request Interpol and other relevant bodies to help tracking those individuals.[63]


Kim Myung-yeon, a spokesperson for South Korea's ruling party, described the killing as a "naked example of Kim Jong-un's reign of terror".[64]

Personal life

It has been reported that Kim had two wives, at least one mistress[20], and had at least six children.[65] His first wife, Shin Jong-hui (born c. 1980), lives at a home called Dragon Villa on the northern outskirts of Beijing.[20] His second wife, Lee Hye-kyong (born c. 1970), their son Han-sol (born 1995) and their daughter Sol-hui (born c. 1998) live in a modest 12-story apartment building in Macau;[20] Jong-nam's mistress, former Air Koryo flight attendant Chen Jia-Xi (born c. 1980), also lives in Macau.[20]

Kim was often reported by the media for his gambling and extravagant spending.[66][67][68][69]

See also


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  65. ^ Kim Jong-nam killed after pleading with his brother to spare his life
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External links