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O Kuk-ryol (Korean오극렬, born 7 January 1930[1]) is a North Korean military general who served as Vice Chairman of the National Defence Commission of North Korea, as head of the Operations Department from April 2009 to June 2016.[2][3] The son of O Jung-song and nephew of O Jung-hup, who allegedly fought the Japanese with Kim Il-sung, O Kuk-ryol was among war orphans under the care of Kim Il-sung's wife Kim Jong-suk and was a close personal friend of Kim Jong-il from childhood.[4] He has been called the second most powerful man in North Korea.[5]

O Kuk-ryol
Vice Chairman of the National Defence Commission
In office
April 2009 – 30 June 2016
LeaderKim Jong-il
Kim Jong-un
Succeeded byCommission abolished
Personal details
Born (1930-01-07) 7 January 1930 (age 89)
Jilin, China
NationalityNorth Korean
O Kuk-ryol
Revised RomanizationO Geuk-ryeol
McCune–ReischauerO Kŭk-ryŏl

In June 2009, O was identified by international authorities and the United States government as a key figure in North Korea's currency counterfeiting activities, specifically with United States one hundred-dollar bills, known as Superdollars. He was reported to have also involved members of his family, including his son O Se-won, in the counterfeiting business, which reportedly took place at the Pyongsong Trademark Printing Factory, a factory under the control of O's Operations Department.[6][7] His other son O Se-uk, who was also a military general, defected to the United States in 2004.[4] He also has five daughters, the eldest of which is a screenwriter for a film studio. O is also reportedly fluent in Russian, Chinese, and English.[8] In 2006, a South Korean intelligence report noted he was perceived as reliable and knew South Korea well.[9]


Military careerEdit

After attending Mangyongdae Revolutionary School, Kim Il Sung University, and air force academies in the Soviet Union, O served as an air force commander, beginning as a major general and superintendent of the Kim Chaek Air Force Academy, the North’s top air force academy, in 1964, and then as a lieutenant general and became the commander of the Korean People's Army Air and Anti-Air Force in 1968 before joining politics in 1970 as a member of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea. He was elected deputy to the Supreme People's Assembly in 1967.[8] In 1973, he was among the pilots who were sent to aid the Egyptian Air Force during the Yom Kippur War.[3]

He was promoted again in 1979 to Chief of General Staff of the Korean People's Army, after serving two years as the deputy chief of staff.[10] He became part of the "1980 group," who rose to power as Kim Jong-il started succeeding Kim Il-sung at the Party's 6th Congress, when O was elected member of the Politburo and the Central Military Commission. He was later awarded the Order of Kim Il-sung, promoted to general and put in charge of the Mirim Electronic Warfare Institute for developing cyber warfare.[10] A dispute with Minister of People's Armed Forces, O Jin-u in 1988 led to his demotion and forced him to undertake a period of re-education;[10] this may have had to do with enabling his later counterfeiting activities.[3][8]

In 1989, O was pardoned and appointed head of the Civil Defense Department of the Workers' Party of Korea, then head of the Operations Department, which was transferred under the National Defence Commission in 2009.[2][5] O Kuk-ryol migrated with the department assuming the post of vice-chairman of the NDC in April 2009. He was reelected Central Committee member at the September 2010 WPK Conference, but kept out of the Politburo and the Central Military Commission. Nevertheless, he was considered among "senior officials of party, state, army, security organs and national institutions".[10]

Under Kim Jong-unEdit

O Kuk-ryol allegedly took part at a meeting of top leaders held immediately after Kim Jong-il's death on 17 December 2011 in order to plan funeral and succession.[11] He was a member of the Kim Jong-il funeral committee. As a Kim loyalist, speculations named him as an possible successor of Kim Jong-un, and the regime appeared to be purging O's protégés in January 2011 to prevent him from being a threat to Jong-un.[12] After the execution of Jang Sung-taek in December 2013, a powerful rival, O re-emerged as more of a public figure.[13]



  1. ^ "Sanctions List Search - O". US Treasury. Retrieved 13 September 2017.
  2. ^ a b Rosen, James (May 1, 2009). "In North Korea, Ailing Kim Begins Shifting Power to Military". Fox News. Retrieved September 22, 2010.
  3. ^ a b c "O Kuk-ryol: The Power Behind the Throne". Hot Air. June 3, 2009. Retrieved September 22, 2010.
  4. ^ a b Sano, Yoel (February 18, 2005). "Military holds the key". Asia Times. Retrieved September 22, 2010.
  5. ^ a b Kirk, Donald (September 22, 2010). "5 key people to watch in North Korea". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved September 22, 2010.
  6. ^ Gertz, Bill (June 2, 2009). "N. Korea general tied to forged $100 bills". The Washington Times. Retrieved September 22, 2010.
  7. ^ "Reports: Top North Korean General Named in Counterfeit U.S. Money Plot". Fox News. June 2, 2009. Retrieved September 22, 2010.
  8. ^ a b c "O Kuk-ryol". KBS World. Retrieved September 22, 2010.
  9. ^ "After Kim Jong-il". Al Jazeera. November 3, 2008. Retrieved September 22, 2010.
  10. ^ a b c d "Gen. O Kuk-ryol". North Korea Leadership Watch. August 17, 2013. Retrieved January 6, 2016.
  11. ^ Gen. O Kuk Ryol Steps Forth From the Shadows, North Korea Leadership Watch, December 26, 2011. Retrieved January 9, 2012.
  12. ^ "N.Korea 'Purging Proteges of the Old Guard'". The Chosun Ilbo. January 10, 2011. Retrieved December 19, 2011.
  13. ^ Lee, Jong-Heon (January 30, 2014). "Powerful general tied to N. Korea's WMD programs takes center stage following Jang's demise". World Tribune. Retrieved July 10, 2014.
  14. ^ 북한정보포털 | 인물 상세보기 | 오극렬. (in Korean). Ministry of Unification. Retrieved 1 February 2019.