Who Was Kim Jong Nam? Kim Jong Un’s Exiled Half-Brother Killed


North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s estranged half-brother Kim Jong Nam has been killed in Malaysia, South Korean government sources confirmed Tuesday.

The country’s cable television network TV Chosun reported that Kim Jong Nam died after he was jabbed by a poisoned needle at Kuala Lumpur airport by two women still at large, who are believed to be North Korean operatives.

Kim Jong Nam Poses With HIs Father In The Early 1980's
A young Kim Jong Nam poses with his father in a family portrait taken in the early 1980’s.

Police confirmed to Reuters that an unidentified North Korean man died en route to the hospital from Kuala Lumpur airport on Monday. Abdul Aziz Ali, police chief for the Sepang district, said the man’s identity had not been verified. Local and other media is indicating that the deceased man is Kim Jong Nam, Kim Jong Un’s older brother. Here are some of the key things to know about the exiled scion of the Kim dynasty:

Who was Kim Jong Nam?

Born in 1971, he was the eldest son of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il. His mother was Song Hye Rim, a North Korean actress who was initially Kim Jong Il’s secret mistress.

Kim Jong Nam Posing With His Maternal Grandmother
Kim Jong Nam, dressed in an army uniform poses, with his maternal grandmother in January 1975.

Sung Hae Rang, Jong Nam’s aunt, helped raise him along with her own children – a son and a daughter – before defecting in 1982. When he was around 27 years old, he began working at the Ministry of Public Security.

As the eldest son, why did Kim Jong Nam not become leader?

He was originally thought of as the heir apparent to the hermit kingdom. However, in 2001 he fell out of favor after he was seized by Japanese authorities at Narita Airport, accompanied by a boy identified as his son, for trying to enter the country on a forged Dominican Republic passport.

Kim Jong Nam was an outspoken critic of the North Korean regime.
Kim Jong Nam was an outspoken critic of the North Korean regime.

Kim, who held senior positions within the North Korean government at the time, allegedly told police that he simply wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland, ahead of being deported to Pyongyang, China, TIME reported in 2011. The incident, coupled with the rumored defection of Kim’s mother (she died in Russia in 2002), led to his estrangement from his father. His younger brother, Kim Jong Un, was instead heralded as the “Great Successor.”

In a 2010 interview with Japan’s Asahi TV, Kim said it was his father’s decision to name the younger Kim as the next leader, and that he was willing to help his younger brother “when he needs it from overseas.” He added that he was not interested in becoming North Korea’s next leader. “That’s good, because we don’t think he’s in the running,” TIME wrote at the time.

Despite this, Kim (pictured) was passed over for succession in favour of his youngest brother, Kim Jong Un.
Despite this, Kim (pictured) was passed over for succession in favour of his youngest brother, Kim Jong Un.
What happened next?

After the embarrassment of 2001, Kim took up residence in the casino mecca of Macao, where he gained notoriety for his gambling habits and hard drinking. There were rumors that he was based in the former Portuguese colony to help his family’s regime launder money through a shady web of banks and casinos. In 2007, Macau’s Banco Delta Asia agreed to dissolve all ties with North Korea after the U.S. Treasury accused the bank of acting as the country’s “willing pawn.”

Who does Kim Jong Nam leave behind?

A Chosun report in 2010 found that Kim has at least three children. The oldest, Kim Han Sol, is now thought to be in his early 20s. His online media presence — with appearances on YouTube, Facebook, MySpace and the dating site Asiafind — became an occasional hot topic in South Korean and Japanese news media.

The same year, Kim Han Sol sat down with former Finnish member of parliament Elisabeth Rehn to discuss his life and his unusual family for a televised interview. He told Rehn that he had never met his grandfather, Kim Jong Il. “I was waiting for him until before he passed away, hoping that he will come find me,” he said. “I really didn’t know that he knew that I existed.”

Why was Kim Jong Nam killed?

Kim Jong-nam (pictured in 2001) was North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's oldest son.
Kim Jong-nam (pictured in 2001) was North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s oldest son.

The specific details are unclear, but this doesn’t appear to have been the first attempt on his life. According to the Mail, in 2011 a North Korean agent tried to assassinate Kim in Macau, but failed after a bloody shootout with his bodyguards.

It is widely speculated that Kim Jong Un felt threatened by his older brother, who had criticized the regime from afar.

What May Have Gotten Kim Jong Nam Killed?

But far from keeping a low profile, Kim began to openly criticise North Korea and his family’s decades-long rule. He was quoted by Japanese media in 2010 as saying he opposed ”dynastic succession”.

Following his father’s death in December the following year, Kim’s comments about his younger brother’s ability to maintain “absolute power” to a Japanese journalist singled him out as his most vocal, and high profile, critic.

Kim told Yoji Gomi the country would collapse without reform, but reform would lead to the collapse of the Kim dynasty, while noting his brother would be little more than a puppet figure, used by the ruling elite.

His words were backed up by his son Kim Han-sol, who was born in Pyongyang in 1995 but never met his grandfather.

“My dad was definitely not really interested in politics,” the teenager told former UN Under-Secretary General Elisabeth Rehn in an interview on Finnish television in 2012.

It was noted at the time that it was likely Kim had some sort of protection; there is known to have been at least one other plot to cause harm to Kim previously.

In 2012, a North Korean spy admitted he had been ordered by the secretive state to attack Kim.

He reportedly went as far as hiring a taxi driver to run Mr Kim over in 2010, but the plot went no further, a court heard.

The whereabouts of Kim Jong-chul, Kim Jong-il’s middle son, apparently passed over for succession for being too effeminate, is not known.

He was last spotted at an Eric Clapton concert in London in 2015.

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