Kim Jong-nam

North Korean politician
For other people with the same name, see Kim Jeong-nam. Not to be confused with North Korean politician Kim Yong-nam.
Kim Jong-nam
Kim jong nam.jpg
Kim in 2001, during his high-profile detention at Narita International Airport.
Native name 김정남
Born (1971-05-10)10 May 1971
Pyongyang, North Korea
Died 13 February 2017(2017-02-13) (aged 45)
Sepang, Selangor, Malaysia
Cause of death VX poisoning[1]
Residence Macau, Singapore, Malaysia
Nationality North Korean
Alma mater Kim Il-sung University
Political party Workers' Party of Korea
Spouse(s) Shin Jong-hui
Children 6 (including Kim Han-sol)
Relatives Kim Il-sung (grandfather)
Kim Sul-song (sister)
Kim Jong-chul (brother)
Kim Jong-un (brother)
Military career
Allegiance  North Korea
Service/branch Flag of the Korean People's Army (Fringed).png Korean People's Army
This is a Korean name; the family name is Kim.
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, Korean pronunciation: [kim.dʑʌŋ.nam] or [kim] [tɕʌŋ.nam]; 10 May 1971 – 13 February 2017) was the eldest son of Kim Jong-il, leader of North Korea. From roughly 1994 to 2001, he was considered the heir apparent to his father.[2] Following a series of actions showing dissent to the North Korean regime, including a failed attempt to visit Tokyo Disneyland in May 2001 by entering Japan with a false passport, he was thought to have fallen out of favour with his father.[3]

Kim was exiled from North Korea circa 2003, becoming an occasional critic of his family's regime and an advocate for reform.[4] His younger paternal half-brother, Kim Jong-un, was named heir apparent in September 2010.[5] Kim's death in Malaysia in February 2017 is alleged to have been a result of poisoning at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.


Life and careerEdit

Early lifeEdit

Kim Jong-nam was born in Pyongyang, North Korea, 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 Jong-nam out of school, instead sending him to live with Song's older sister Song Hye-rang, who tutored him at home.[6]

Kim was 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".[7] His aunt also said in 2000 that he "[did] not wish to succeed his father".[7] Like Kim Jong-il, he was interested in film: he wrote scripts and short films from a young age.[7] His father also created a small movie set for him to use.[7]

Kim made several clandestine visits to Japan, starting as early as 1995.[7] Kim became a regular at a bathhouse in Yoshiwara, one of Tokyo's red light districts.[7]

1998–2001: Heir apparentEdit

In 1998, Kim was appointed to a senior position in the Ministry of Public Security of the DPRK, as a future leader.[8] 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.[8]

2001: Tokyo Disneyland incidentEdit

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.[3][9][10] After being detained he was deported to China,[11] where he said he was traveling to Japan to visit Tokyo Disneyland.[8] The incident caused his father to cancel a planned visit to China due to the embarrassment it caused him.[8]

2001–2005: Loss of favourEdit

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.[3][12]

It is believed that Kim Jong-un, Jong-nam's youngest half-brother, became the new heir apparent due to this incident.[13] 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.[3][13] In late 2003, it was reported that Kim Jong-nam was living in Macau, lending strength to this belief.[3][14]

Kim Jong-un was left in charge while his father was on a state visit to China.[13] Outsider observers also believed North Korea's sinking of a South Korean ship in March 2010 was part of Kim Jong-il attempt to secure succession for the youngest Kim.[13]

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".[15]

It was believed that Kim Jong-nam had friendly ties to China. Outside analysts considered him as a possible candidate to replace Kim Jong-un if the North Korean leadership imploded and China, traditionally an ally, sought a replacement in its client state.[3][16]

2005–2017: Rise of Kim Jong-unEdit

The Asahi Shimbun reported Kim Jong-nam, traveling to his brother Kim Jong-chul in Munich, survived an assassination attempt at the Budapest Ferihegy International Airport in July 2006. According to South Korean reports, the Hungarian government protested against the incident to the North Korean embassy in Vienna, requesting there be no recurrence.[17][18] 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.[19][20]

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.[21]

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 his father to decide.[22]

In June 2010, Kim Jong-nam gave a brief interview to the Associated Press in Macau while waiting for a hotel elevator.[23] He said that he had "no plans" to defect to Europe, as the press had recently rumoured.[23] Kim Jong-nam lived in an apartment on the southern tip of Macau's Coloane Island until 2007.[24] 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".[24]

In late September 2010, his younger half-brother Kim Jong-un was made heir-apparent.[25][26] Kim Jong-un was declared Supreme Leader of North Korea on 24 December 2011 after the death of Kim Jong-il. The two half-brothers never met, because of the ancient practice of raising potential successors separately.[27][28]

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.[29]

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.[30]

In a book released in 2012 titled My Father, Kim Jong Il, and Me by Japanese journalist Yōji Gomi who had interviewed Kim Jong-nam on numerous occasions, Jong-nam said he expected the leadership of 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".[31]

According to intelligence sources, It is reported that Kim Jong-un had issued a standing order to have his half brother killed.[3] In 2012 there was another assassination attempt on Kim Jong-nam, who later that year sent a letter to his half-brother to beg for his life.[3]

Personal lifeEdit

It has been reported that Kim had two wives, at least one mistress,[24] and had at least six children.[32] His first wife, Shin Jong-hui (born c. 1980), lives at a home called Dragon Villa on the northern outskirts of Beijing.[24] 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;[24] Jong-nam's mistress, former Air Koryo flight attendant So Yong-la (born c. 1980), also lives in Macau.[24]


Death of Kim Jong-nam
Date 13 February 2017 (2017-02-13)
Location Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2, Malaysia
Cause Homicide by VX nerve agent
Participants no trial
Inquiries Ongoing; Autopsy performed on 15 February at the Kuala Lumpur Hospital mortuary
Arrest(s) Đoàn Thị Hương (Vietnamese),
Siti Aishah (Indonesian),
Muhammad Farid Bin Jalaluddin (Malaysian, released on bail),
Ri Jong-chol (North Korean)
Suspect(s) Rhi Ji-hyon,
Hong Song-hac,
O Jong-gil,
Ri Jae-nam,
Kim Uk-il,
Ri Ji-u (North Koreans),
Hyon Kwang-song (a senior diplomat in the North Korean embassy in Malaysia)

On 13 February 2017, Kim was allegedly murdered by two women[33] in Malaysia with a VX nerve agent,[34][35] during his return trip to Macau at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.[36][37] As he was travelling under the pseudonym "Kim Chol", Malaysian officials did not immediately formally confirm that Kim Jong-nam was the man killed.[38]

Kim died while being transferred from the airport to the Putrajaya Hospital.[33][39][40] 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".[41]

Autopsy and North Korean–Malaysian conflictEdit

Malaysian officials said that North Korean officials in the country objected to any form of autopsy being conducted on Kim's body,[42] but the autopsy proceeded as they did not submit a formal protest.[43] A post-mortem on Kim was conducted on 15 February at the Kuala Lumpur Hospital mortuary in the presence of several North Korean officials,[44] and concluded the following day, formally confirming the identity of Kim's body, although further information was not expected to be released until the completion of the autopsy report.[43]

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 was done.[45] The minister added that the body would be released to the next-of-kin or to the North Korean embassy.[46] Malaysian Selangor State police chief Abdul Samah Mat also said the body would only be released if his family provided a DNA sample to be used to verify that the dead person was Kim Jong-nam.[47]

Following Malaysia's refusal to release the body, North Korea's ambassador, Kang Chol, accused Malaysia of collaborating with the country's enemies over the assassination of Kim Jong-nam, and expressed doubt as to whether Malaysia's decision was influenced by its rival, South Korea.[48] The ambassador said they would reject the outcome of the post-mortem conducted "on its citizen without permission" and perceived the decision as a "violation of human rights", and thus would lodge a complaint to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).[49]

Following the accusation by the North Korean ambassador that Malaysia was conspiring with its "hostile forces" which have strained the relationship between both countries, he was summoned by the government of Malaysia on 20 February, while the Malaysian ambassador to North Korea had also been recalled.[50] The ambassador then responded that they cannot trust the investigation by Malaysian police, noting there had been no evidence of the cause of death even a week after the attack. He also proposed that North Korea and Malaysia should open a joint investigation together in order to prevent influence from South Korea which, he said, is trying to malign North Korea as the party responsible for the killing.[51] Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak responded to the ambassador that his country will be objective in the investigation and assured the North Korean side that they do not have reason to paint North Korea in a bad light while rejecting the request for joint investigation.[52][53] On 22 February, Malaysian police said there was evidence of an attempted break-in at the mortuary where Kim's body was being held.[54]

On 24 February, Malaysia's police chief Khalid Abu Bakar announced that a post-mortem toxicology report had found traces of the nerve agent VX on Kim's face.[34] North Korea is not a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention (which bans such chemical weapons) and is believed to hold the world's third-biggest stockpile (after the United States and Russia, which are both signatories and are in the process of destroying their stockpiles).[34][55] According to experts, the use of VX gas may explain why two assailants were involved, because each assailant "could have wiped two or more precursors" in Kim's face.[55] This is referred to as a binary chemical weapon.[56][57] This method could ensure that the assailants were not themselves killed by the poison, which can be fatal in very small amounts; additionally, smuggling the chemical components into Malaysia separately could have helped avoid detection.[55][56][58] One assailant reported she vomited in the taxi afterward and has continued to feel unwell.[39] Chemical weapons experts Jean-Pascal Zanders and Richard Guthrie noted that the reported effects were not entirely consistent with the potency of VX – Jong-Nam was able to walk to the medical station without suffering spasms, paramedics were not affected, the assailants survived, and there were no other reports of injury even though the scene of the attack was not cleaned for over a week.[59] VX degrades rapidly in storage and North Korea's supplies are believed to be several years old, which could explain the apparent weakness of the chemical.[59]

The North Korean government rejected all findings, accused the Malaysian police of "fabricating evidence" in collusion with South Korea and demanded the release of three persons being held in connection with the death.[60]

"In terms of the brazen nature of the killing, and its complete disregard for international norms or the safety of bystanders", the murder of Kim recalled the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006, using the radioactive substance polonium-210.[55]

Investigation and arrestsEdit

Kim had been targeted for assassination in the past. In late 2012, Kim Jong-nam appeared in Singapore one year after leaving Macau.[61] 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.[62]

Following Kim's death, Malaysian police arrested a woman at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in connection with the attack on 14 February 2017. The woman, a 28-year-old named Đoàn Thị Hương, was in possession of Vietnamese travel documentation.[38] Đoàn was identified through CCTV footage.[42] On 16 February, a 25-year-old woman named Siti Aishah with Indonesian travel documentation was arrested and identified as the second female suspect.[63] Aishah's boyfriend, a 26-year-old Malaysian named Muhammad Farid Bin Jalaluddin, was also arrested to assist in the investigation.[43]

Đoàn told the 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.[64]

Malaysian authorities began to hunt for the four men and tightened border security, saying there could be a possibility the assassination was orchestrated by agents with both of the women used as scapegoats.[65][66] A North Korean man was arrested on 17 February, identified as a 46-year-old Ri Jong-chol.[49][67] He was working for an IT department of a Malaysian cancer supplement company, Tombo Enterprise.[68]

On 19 February, Malaysian police said they are looking for four more North Korean suspects in connection with the murder.[69] 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 whom left Malaysia after the attack, while the Malaysian police requested help from Interpol and other relevant authorities in tracking them.[70] According to an unnamed source, the four suspects fled back to Pyongyang by taking a long journey from the airport to Jakarta, Dubai and Vladivostok before reaching their home country.[71][72] Three male suspects are still in the country: Kim Uk-il, an employee in Air Koryo; Hyon Kwang-song, a senior diplomat in the North Korean embassy in Malaysia, holding the rank of second secretary; and Ri Ji-u.[73][74]

On 22 February, Malaysian police inspector-general Khalid Abu Bakar said that the killing was "a planned effort" and that the two women arrested had been trained to carry out the attack and had repeatedly rehearsed it together at Pavilion Kuala Lumpur and Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC).[74] Khalid also said that the women apparently admitted that they knew they were handling poisonous substances,[74] with one of the women showing symptoms of side effects as she vomited several times after exposure.[75] That same day, an unnamed Malaysian man believed to be a chemist was picked up by police during a raid on a condominium where he then led police to another condominium where various chemicals were seized.[76] The following day, Khalid dismissed claims by Aishah that she thought she was participating in a television prank and did not know that the substance was toxic.[77][78]

Following the preliminary findings, the remand was extended for the women suspects and the North Korean man, while Muhammad Farid was released on bail.[79] Malaysia's Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB), called to carry out a sweep in the airport,[75] confirmed the following day that it was cleared from any toxic substances.[80]

South Korean responseEdit

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".[81]

North Korean potential involvementEdit

The South Korean government accused the North Korean government as the responsible party for conducting Kim Jong-nam's assassination. Officials in Seoul pointed to the fact that Kim Jong-un has ordered the executions of a number of senior officials, including his own uncle.[3][82]

See alsoEdit


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