Kim Jong-nam

Kim Jong-nam (May 10th, 1971 - February 13th, 2017) also romanised as Kim Jong Nam, is the eldest son of Kim Jong-il. From roughly 1998 to 2001, he was widely considered to be the heir apparent to his father and the next leader of North Korea. Following a much-publicized botched attempt to secretly enter Japan using a fake passport and visit Disneyland in May 2001, Jong-nam was thought to have fallen out of favor with his father. In September 2010, his younger paternal half-brother Kim Jong-un was named heir apparent. In exile, Jong-nam has become known as a sometime critic of his family's regime and an advocate for reform.


Early life

Jong-nam was born in Pyongyang, to Song Hye-rim, one of three women known to have had children with Kim Jong-il. Because Jong-il aimed to keep his affair with Song a secret due to the disapproval of his father 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.

Jong-nam is reported to have a personality similar to that of his father, and he has been described by his aunt as being "hot-tempered, sensitive, and gifted in the arts." The same aunt also said in 2000 that Jong-nam "does not wish to succeed his father." Like Jong-il, he is interested in film: He has written scripts and short films since he was young. His father also created a small movie set for him to use.

According to the Japanese magazine Shukan Shincho, Jong-nam has made several clandestine visits to Japan, starting as early as 1995. A book about the Kim family called Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader by Bradley K. Martin reported that during the late 1990s, Jong-nam became "a familiar figure" at a bathhouse in Yoshiwara, one of Tokyo's red light districts.

1998–2001: Time as heir apparent

In 1998, Jong-nam was appointed to a senior position in the Ministry of Public Security, the DPRK security apparatus, indicating that he was being promoted as a future leader. 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.

2001 Tokyo Disneyland incident

In May 2001, Jong-nam was arrested on arrival at Narita International Airport accompanied by two women and a 4-year old boy identified as his son. He was traveling on a forged Dominican Republic passport using a Chinese alias, Pang Xiong, which means "fat bear" in Mandarin Chinese. Jong-nam was reportedly wearing a white shirt and dark blazer, along with sunglasses and a gold chain. After being detained for several days, he was deported, on the instructions of the Japanese government, to the People's Republic of China. Jong-nam apparently told his questioners that he was in Japan to visit Tokyo Disneyland in Urayasu, near Tokyo. The incident caused Jong-il to cancel a planned visit to China because of the embarrassment caused by the incident.

2001–2005: Loss of favor

Until the Tokyo incident, Jong-nam was expected to become leader of the country after his father. In February 2003, the DPRK 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." Since the "Respected Mother" was described as "[devoting] herself to the personal safety of the comrade supreme commander," and "[assisting] the comrade supreme commander nearest to his body," it is assumed that the "Respected Mother" is Ko Young-hee, and that the campaign was designed to promote Kim Jong-chul or Kim Jong-un, her sons. A similar campaign was launched in praise of Kim Jong-il's mother Kim Jong-suk during the later years of Kim Il-sung's life.

It is believed that Jong-un, Jong-nam's youngest half-brother, became the new heir apparent because of this incident. 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 Jong-nam's prospects. In late 2003, it was reported that Jong-nam was living in Macau, lending strength to this belief.

In 2003, Hwang Jang-yop, a former KWP secretary for international affairs who defected to South Korea in 1997, predicted that Jong-nam had lost his chance: "An heir must be the child of a woman a king loves, and it is true that Kim Jong-il loves Koh Young-hee most. The fate of Kim Jong-nam is sealed."

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

Jong-nam says he fell out of favor 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 Tokyo Shimbun, he 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 Yeo-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."

2005–2010: Rise of Kim Jong-un

It was reported in the South China Morning Post on February 1, 2007, that Jong-nam had been living incognito with his family in Macau, for some 3 years, and that this was a cause of some embarrassment to both the Macau and Chinese governments.

South Korean television and the South China Morning Post reported in 2007 that Jong-nam had a Portuguese passport. However, Portuguese authorities and the Portuguese consul in Macau, Pedro Moitinho de Almeida, stated that "If such a document indeed exists, it is certainly a forgery."

In August 2007, it was reported that Jong-nam had returned to the DPRK from Macau and had begun working at a key agency of the ruling Workers' Party, fueling speculation that the rift between Jong-nam and his father had at least partially mended and that Jong-nam was being groomed as a potential successor. It was verified later on that this was a rumor and that Jong-nam is still staying in Beijing and Macau as before while traveling to Austria and France for medical reasons early November 2007 where he gave a short interview to a Japanese TV channel after going to Moscow.

In January 2009, Jong-nam said that he had "no interest" in taking power in North Korea after his father, stating that it is only for him to decide.

In June 2010, Jong-nam gave a brief interview to the Associated Press in Macau while waiting for a hotel elevator. He told the reporter that he had "no plans" to defect to Europe, as the press had recently rumored. Jong-nam lived in an apartment on the southern tip of Macau's Coloane Island until 2007. An anonymous South Korean official reported in October 2010 that Jong-nam hadn't lived in Macau for "months", and now shuttles between China and "another country."

In late September 2010, his younger paternal half-brother Kim Jong-un was made heir-apparent. Jong-un was declared Supreme Leader of North Korea on December 24, 2011 after Jong-il's death.

On January 1st, 2012, the Japanese daily Yomiuri Shimbun reported that Jong-nam secretly flew to Pyongyang from Macau on December 17th, 2011; after learning about his father's death that day and was presumed to have accompanied Jong-un when paying his last respects to their father. He left after a few days to return to Macau and he wasn't in attendance at the funeral in order to avoid speculation about the succession.

On January 14, 2012, 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.

In a book released in 2012 called My Father, Kim Jong Il, and Me by Yoji Gomi who had interviewed Jong-nam on numerous occasions, it is claimed that Jong-nam expects the leadership of Jong-un to fail, citing that he's too inexperienced and young. He also stated that "Without reforms, North Korea will collapse, and when such changes take place, the regime will collapse."

In late 2012, Jong-nam appeared in Singapore one year after leaving Macau. He left Macau allegedly on suspicions that he was being targeted for assassination by Jong-un; South Korean authorities had prior indicted a North Korean agent by the name of Kim Yong-su who confessed to planning an attack on Jong-nam in July 2010.

Personal life

The South Korean newspaper The Chosun Ilbo reports that Jong-nam has two wives (at least one mistress) and several children. His first wife Shin Jong-hui (born c. 1980) and their son Kum-sol (born c. 1996) live at a home called Dragon Villa on the northern outskirts of Beijing. His second wife Lee Hye-kyong (born c. 1970), their son Han-sol (born c. 1995) and their daughter Sol-hui (born c. 1998) live in a modest 12th story apartment building in Macau; Jong-nam's mistress, former Air Koryo flight attendant So Yong-la (born c. 1980), also lives in Macau. Han-sol has been linked to accounts on online social networks. In 2011, he enrolled in the United World College in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Jong-nam is often given attention by the media for his gambling and extravagant spending.


On February 13th, 2017; Kim Jong-nam died after being rushed to the hospital after telling BERNAMA that a woman "covered [Kim's] face with a cloth laced with a liquid". The Malaysian police arrested a 28-year-old named Đoàn Thị Hương, was in possession of Vietnamese travel documentation and was identified as one of the two women that attack Jong-nam.


  • As of 2015, the North Korean government has offered a 4$ reward for his capture.