Yi Han-yong

Lee Han-yeong, birth name Lee Il-nam (2 April 1960 – 25 February 1997), was a North Korean defector who was the nephew of the country's leader, Kim Jong-il.[3] After his defection in 1982, he went into hiding for a number of years, before going public in support of Seong Hye-rim, his aunt and Kim's mistress or wife, and wrote a book about his experiences in exile, after which he was murdered by unknown assailants.

Lee Han-yeong
Lee Il-nam

(1960-04-02)2 April 1960
Died25 February 1997(1997-02-25) (aged 36)
Known forDefection to South Korea
Parent(s)Seong Hye-rang (mother)
Korean name
N. 리한영
Revised RomanizationYi Han-yeong
N. Ri Han-yeong
McCune–ReischauerYi Han-yŏng
N. Ri Han-yŏng
Birth name
S. 이일남
Revised RomanizationRi Il-nam
S. Yi Il-nam
McCune–ReischauerRi Il-nam
S. Yi Il-nam

Early lifeEdit

Ri's mother, Seong Hye-rang, raised Kim Jong-il's and her younger sister 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] Song Hye-rim is described as the former wife of Kim Jong-il, though it is unclear whether they were actually married.

He went abroad to Moscow for university, and then defected to South Korea in 1982 while studying at a language school in Switzerland.[5]

His defection in 1982 had been kept secret due to his connections. He underwent plastic surgery and changed his name to conceal his identity. His identity was revealed when he had told newspapers he was financially supporting his aunt's defection who was in Moscow.[6]

Life in South KoreaEdit

His life in the South was troubled. He first studied drama at Hanyang University, and married in 1988; 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 shootingEdit

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 ten days later (25 February).[7][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.[8]


  • Yi, Han-yong (1996), "《대동강 로열패밀리 서울잠행 14년》 [Taedong River Royal Family: my 14 years incognito in Seoul]", The Dong-a 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 (19 February 1997), 이한영씨 피격 수사 ‘갈팡질팡’ [Investigation into shooting of Mr. Yi Han-yong 'incoherent'], Munhwa Ilbo (in Korean), retrieved 8 July 2010
  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 (in Japanese), 12 May 2007, retrieved 8 July 2010
  3. ^ a b c Gim, Song-a (26 February 2007), 이한영 피살 10년 추도식 [Memorial service for 10th anniversary of Yi Han-yong's murder], Daily NK (in Korean), retrieved 30 October 2007
  4. ^ a b Lee, Adriana S. (23 June 2003), "Secret Lives", Time Magazine, retrieved 29 October 2007
  5. ^ a b c d e Pollack, Andrew (17 February 1997), "Korean shooting is casting cloud on signs of thaw", The New York Times, retrieved 30 October 2007
  6. ^ Pollack, Andrew (17 February 1997). "Korean Shooting is Casting Cloud on signs of Thaw". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  7. ^ Lee, Chang-mul (20 June 2013). 누가 북한 소행이라 단정할 수 있나?. The Dong-a Ilbo (in Korean). Retrieved 25 February 2019.
  8. ^ Pollack, Andrew (18 February 1997), "Allied Friction in Korea", The New York Times, retrieved 30 October 2007