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Kim Jeong-nam

James E. Hoare

Eldest son of Kim Jong Il and reportedly his father's favorite while he was a young child.


KIM JEONG-NAM (1971- ). Eldest son of Kim Jong Il, leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) from 1994 until his death in December 2011 and reportedly his father’s favorite when young. Kim Jeong-nam was born in Pyongyang. His mother was Seong Hye-rim, a movie star, who reportedly divorced her first husband to marry Kim Jong Il. It is believed that Kim Il Sung did not approve of Seong’s background and although Kim Jeong-nam was at one time seen as the logical successor to his father, this seemed increasingly unlikely as the years passed. It is widely believed that he damaged his chances of doing so when he was stopped at Tokyo airport in May 2001, accompanied by two women and a small boy, while traveling on a forged Dominican Republic passport. When challenged, he said that he wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland. Although he visited the DPRK after this incident, Kim Jong Il was reportedly annoyed by it. Kim Jeong-nam lives in Macau and makes regular visits to China and occasional trips to Europe. He is reported to have had three partners, by whom he has had two sons and two daughters. There are unsubstantiated reports that he was placed in charge of the Korean Computer Center at 17, was made a general in the Korean People’s Army, and was in charge of the State Security Department’s foreign intelligence work, all as part of his grooming to be his father’s successor. The Republic of Korea press claims that there is a rift between Kim Jeong-nam and Kim Jong Un, who became the favored successor at least from 2010. The same sources say that Kim Jong Un has sought to have his older half-brother killed. However, China has supposedly warned that it would take a dim view of any such happening.

Kim Jeong-nam may have briefly returned to the DPRK after his father’s death, but if this is true, the visit was given no publicity in the country. In January 2012, a Japanese journalist on the Tokyo Shimbun published a book that he said was based on e-mails he had exchanged with Kim Jeong-nam. The latter claimed to be in touch with South Koreans and Japanese from his school days. He also indicated that he was not overimpressed by his younger half-brother and said that unless Kim Jong Un began a reform process, the DPRK was doomed to fail. He also has apparently said that he has never met his younger half-brothers.

In October 2011, reports emerged that a 16-year-old boy, Kim Han-sol, who was described as the son of Kim Jeong-nam, had applied for a place at the United World Colleges’ school in Hong Kong. When his application for a visa was refused, he applied for a place at the same organization’s ‘school in Mostar, Bosnia. His alleged Facebook page was also publicized, as was that of Kim Jeong-nam.

All rights reserved. No portion of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior written permission of the publisher. (Historical Dictionary of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, by James E. Hoare, published by RLPG Books, appears by permission of the author and publisher).