Yi Han-yong

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Yi Han-yong
Born Ri Il-nam
North Korea
Died (1997-02-26)26 February 1997
Bundang, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea
Known for Defection to South Korea
Parent(s) Song Hye-rang (mother)
Korean name
Hangul 이한영
N. 리한영
Hanja 李韓永[1]
Revised Romanization Yi Han-yeong
N. Ri Han-yeong
McCune–Reischauer Yi Han-yŏng
N. Ri Han-yŏng
Birth name
Hangul 리일남
S. 이일남
Hanja 李一男[2]
Revised Romanization Ri Il-nam
S. Yi Il-nam
McCune–Reischauer Ri Il-nam
S. Yi Il-nam

Yi Han-yong, birth name Ri Il-nam (died 26 February 1997), was a North Korean defector.[3]

Early life[edit]

Ri's mother Song Hye-rang's younger sister Song Hye-rim was a mistress of Kim Jong-il; Ri's mother raised Kim Jong-il's and Hye-rim's son Kim Jong-nam alongside Ri and Ri's sister Nam-ok at a secluded villa outside of Pyongyang in order to keep Jong-nam's parentage a secret from Kim Il-sung.[4] He went abroad to Moscow for university, and then defected to South Korea in 1982 while studying at a language school in Switzerland.[5]

Life in South Korea[edit]

After defecting, he initially attempted to keep his identity a secret, changing his name and even going as far as undergoing plastic surgery. His life in the South was troubled. He first studied drama at Hanyang University, and married in 1989; however, in 1991, a construction company he started went bankrupt, and he was jailed for 10 months on charges of embezzlement.[5] In 1996, due to his ongoing financial difficulties, Yi made his identity as Kim Jong-il's nephew known publicly, selling the story of his aunt Song Hye-rim's exile in Moscow to South Korean newspapers, and then publishing a book about his experiences entitled Taedong River Royal Family.[3][5]

Death by shooting[edit]

Yi was shot on 15 February 1997 near his home in Bundang, Gyeonggi-do by two assailants who were never caught; they were suspected of being members of the Korean People's Army's Special Forces based on analysis of the bullets taken from Yi's body, which were fired from a Belgian-made Browning pistol. He was taken to hospital and kept on life-support, but succumbed to his wounds on 26 February.[3][5]

South Korean prime minister Lee Soo-sung initially stated that the attack was an act of retaliation for the defection of Hwang Jang-yop, who at the time was living in the South Korean embassy in Beijing.[5] The publication of Yi's tell-all book and the defection of his mother in Switzerland the previous year may have served as additional factors in making him a target of the regime in the North.[3][4] Others speculated at the time that his murder was not politically motivated, but was instead related to his gambling debts or a dispute with a lover.[6]


  • Yi, Han-yong (1996), 《대동강 로열패밀리 서울잠행 14년》 [Taedong River Royal Family: my 14 years incognito in Seoul], Donga Ilbo, ISBN 89-7090-110-8 
    • Republished as Yi, Han-yong (2005), 《김정일 로열패밀리》 [Kim Jong-il's Royal Family], Sidae Jeongsin, ISBN 89-90959-06-3 


  1. ^ Geo, Jae (1997-02-19), "이한영씨 피격 수사 ‘갈팡질팡’ [Investigation into shooting of Mr. Yi Han-yong 'incoherent']", Munhwa Ilbo, retrieved 2010-07-08 
  2. ^ "独裁者の秘密を徹底検証 ドキュメンタリー金正日 第61回:高英姫が産んだ3人の子供たち", Hokkaido 365, 2007-05-12, retrieved 2010-07-08 
  3. ^ a b c d Gim, Song-a (2007-02-26), "이한영 피살 10년 추도식 [Memorial service for 10th anniversary of Yi Han-yong's murder]", Daily NK, retrieved 2007-10-30 
  4. ^ a b Lee, Adriana S. (2003-06-23), "Secret Lives", Time Magazine, retrieved 2007-10-29 
  5. ^ a b c d e Pollack, Andrew (1997-02-17), "Korean shooting is casting cloud on signs of thaw", The New York Times, retrieved 2007-10-30 
  6. ^ Pollack, Andrew (1997-02-18), "Allied Friction in Korea", The New York Times, retrieved 2007-10-30