Kim Jong-nam's modest Macau life offered no protection from Pyongyang

PHOTO: Reuters

MACAU - Kim Jong-nam's modest life here was a far cry from the opulence and power enjoyed by his half-brother, the supreme leader of North Korea, but he was still seen by Pyongyang as a dangerous pretender to the ruling family throne.

Friends in the Chinese gambling enclave spoke this week of a man who wined and dined in relative freedom, despite what Seoul's spy chiefs say was a "standing order" for his execution, issued by Kim Jong-un.

His younger brother's order was fulfilled this week, Seoul says, when Jong-nam was murdered at an airport in Malaysia, the victim of poison-wielding female assassins sent by North Korea.

People who knew the Jong-nam in Macau painted a picture of a man who often lived with little security and was not overly cautious.

"I think it was simply not in his character," one friend told Hong Kong's South China Morning Post, noting that Jong-nam would stay in Macau and overseas without bodyguards.

"He had a relaxing life here. Obviously he felt he was protected by China," the friend said.

The Kim dynasty: North Korea's secretive rulers

  • Following a successful missile test and the murder of his half-brother in Kuala Lumpur, North Korean leader Kim Jung Un has been thrust back into the headlines. Here's a look at the hermit state's ruling dynasty.
  • Known as "The Eternal President", Kim Il Sung established the North Korean dictatorship after World War II. With the help of the Soviets who installed him, he purged political enemies and laid the foundations for the regime we see today.
  • Kim Il Sung had three children; Kim Man Il, Kim Kyung Hee and his successor Kim Jong Il. Kim Jong Il ran the country after his father's death in 1994.
  • State media announced the death of "The Dear Leader" on December 19, 2011. He is thought to have had at least four female partners.
  • Kim Jong Il had an affair with actress Song Hye-rim, before marrying his first wife Kim Yong Suk (not pictured). The pair had a son, Kim Jong-nam.
  • Kim Jong-nam was raised in secrecy and tipped to take the North Korean crown after his father's death, but fell out of favor after being caught trying to travel to Disneyland. He was allegedly murdered in Kuala Lumpur on Feb 13, 2017.
  • Another one of Kim Jong Il's lovers. Ko Yong Hui was working as a dancer before becoming his partner and bore him two sons and a daughter. One of the sons is Kim Jong-Un, the country's current leader. She died in 2004.
  • The supreme leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), lLittle is known for sure about Kim Jong Un. Even his birth date is uncertain but he is believed to be around 33 years old.
  • Before taking power, he had barely been seen in public, and many of the activities of both Kim and his government remain shrouded in secrecy.
  • The oldest son of Kim Jong Il but passed over for the top job by his younger brother Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong Chul was initially seen as the successor but a book written by a chef to the family suggested he was viewed as too soft for the job.
  • Mystery also surrounds Kim Yo Chong, the younger sister of Kim Yong Un. Born in 1987, she reportedly attended the International School of Berne in Switzerland.
  • The International Business Times reported that in October 2014 she possibly took over state duties for her brother while he underwent medical treatment.

"Macau suited his personality. He enjoyed life and the good things about it. Macau offered him security and also entertainment."

"He was very cheerful and mingled easily," the friend told the South China Morning Post, adding Jong-nam was involved in charity work for South Koreans.

A slightly drab apartment complex where Jong-nam was believed to have lived was largely deserted when AFP visited this week.

Cantonese-speaking residents denied knowing a man who was educated in Europe and divided his time between Paris, China and the former Portuguese colony, and who moved freely around Asia.

His body on Friday lay in a Kuala Lumpur morgue, with Malaysian police saying they would not hand it over until a family member offered a DNA sample to positively identify it.

Read Also: Elite female spy unit behind killing of Kim Jong-nam: Defector

Three reasons

Jong-nam, the first son of late North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, was at one time set to take the reins of power in the isolated state; groomed by his father for a third generation succession.

Exactly what changed his father's mind is unclear, but a botched 2001 attempt to get into Japan on a fake passport - apparently to visit Disneyland - is commonly cited as the fatal blot on his copybook.

From exile he was a periodic commentator on North Korean affairs, quoted by Japanese journalist Yoji Komi, who published a book about him in 2012, as claiming the regime would "collapse" without reform.

He had even dubbed the North's hereditary succession a "laughing stock", and told Gomi that Jong-un would "not last" as leader.

Half-brother of N Korean leader assassinated in Malaysia

  • Doan Thi Huong, 28, from Vietnam, was surrounded by a heavy police presence as they were charged in a Kuala Lumpur court over the killing.
  • Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25, was surrounded by a heavy police presence as they were charged in a Kuala Lumpur court over the killing.
  • Huong, also dressed casually, then heard the charge in Vietnamese.
  • Siti, wearing a red T-shirt, was brought in first to hear the murder charge read out before being taken away.
  • The handcuffed women were both told they faced the death penalty if found guilty.
  • Neither woman was asked to enter a plea and their trial is not expected to begin for several months.
  • Four suspects in the Kim Jong Nam murder: Malaysian Muhammad Farid Bin Jalaluddin (top L), Doan Thi Huong (top R) of Vietnam, North Korean Ri Jong Chol (bottom L) and Siti Aisyah of Indonesia (bottom R).
  • : A still image from a footage broadcast by Chinese state media which they say is believed to show the second woman (wearing yellow top) suspected of involvement in the apparent assassination of Kim Jong Nam.
  • Mystery woman: A CCTV screen grab showing a woman outside what looked like the airport, was circulated briefly after news broke last night that the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had been killed in Malaysia. The picture fits the description of one of the two women believed to be North Korean spies, who had poisoned Kim Jong-nam during a brazen attack at KLIA2.
  • CCTV cameras at KLIA2 have captured a clearer image of a woman believed to be one of the assassins who killed Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
  • The image zooms in on the alleged killer's features, depicting her to be middle-aged and of Asian descent.
  • In the grainy image, she can be seen wearing a top with the word "LOL" in large letters and a blue short skirt, with her right hand over a small sling handbag.
  • North Korea embassy officials leave the morgue at Kuala Lumpur General Hospital where Kim Jong Nam's body is held for autopsy in Malaysia.
  • Jong-nam, 45, died after he was attacked at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (KLIA2) on Monday.
  • He is believed to have been attacked by two female agents who splashed his face with a chemical at the airport's departure hall at about 9am on Monday.
  • A statement confirming the death from the Royal Malaysia Police force.
  • Three cars belonging to the North Korean embassy were seen in the compound of the mortuary at Kuala Lumpur Hospital (HKL). At least two of the cars were parked inside the compound while the third was seen parked outside with a police patrol car parked behind it. The cars had diplomatic number plates, one of which was 28-35-DC.
  • Occupants of the cars were at the mortuary where a post-mortem on the body of Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, was being carried out.
  • North Korean female agents operating in Malaysia have reportedly assassinated the half-brother of the North's leader, Kim Jong-Un - a one-time heir apparent who became a critic of the Stalinist regime.
  • South Korean media said Tuesday that Kim Jong-Nam was killed with poisoned needles at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Officials in Seoul and the Malaysian capital could not confirm his death.
  • Malaysian police said in a statement late Tuesday that a North Korean man, identified as Kim Chol, sought medical assistance at the airport and died on the way to hospital.
  • South Korean media said Jong-Nam had travelled using a fake passport under the name of Kim Chol.
  • If confirmed, it would be the highest-profile death under the Jong-Un regime since the execution of the leader's uncle, Jang Song-Thaek, in December 2013.
  • Jong-Un has been trying to strengthen his grip on power in the face of growing international pressure over his country's nuclear and missile programmes. He has reportedly staged a series of executions. The latest launch of a new intermediate-range missile on Sunday brought UN Security Council condemnation and vows of a strong response from US President Donald Trump.
  • South Korea's national news agency Yonhap quoted a source as saying agents of the North's spy agency, the Reconnaissance General Bureau, carried out the assassination on Monday by taking advantage of a security loophole between Jong-Nam's bodyguards and Malaysian police at the airport.
  • Malaysian private security guards stand guard outside the Forensics department at Putrajaya Hospital in Putrajaya on February 14, 2017, where the body of a North Korean man suspected to be Kim Jong-Nam, half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un is believed to be kept.
  • The 45-year-old was killed by two unidentified females wielding poisoned needles at the airport, according to South Korean broadcaster TV Chosun.
  • It said the women hailed a cab and fled immediately afterwards. Jong-Nam, the eldest son of former leader Kim Jong-Il, was once seen as heir apparent but fell out of favour following an embarrassing botched attempt in 2001 to enter Japan on a forged passport and visit Disneyland. He has since lived in virtual exile, mainly in the Chinese territory of Macau.
  • A pedestrian walks in front of a clinic where a North Korean man suspected to be Kim Jong-Nam, half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un is believed had been taken at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (KLIA 2) in Sepang, outside Kuala Lumpur on February 14, 2017.
  • His half-brother took over as leader when their father died in December 2011. Jong-Nam, known as an advocate of reform in the North, once told a Japanese newspaper that he opposed his country's dynastic system of power.
  • He was reportedly close to his uncle Song-Thaek, once the North's unofficial number two and political mentor of the current leader. Cheong Seong-Jang, senior researcher at Seoul's Sejong Institute think-tank, said Jong-Nam had been living in near-exile so it was unlikely that Jong-Un saw him as a potential competitor for power.
  • Policemen stand outside the morgue at Putrajaya hospital in Malaysia February 15, 2017.
  • In 2014, Jong-Nam was reported to be in Indonesia - sighted at an Italian restaurant in Jakarta - and was said to be shuttling back and forth between Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and France.
  • N Korean officials scuffle with media outside the KL hospital.
  • N Korean officials speaking to Malaysian authorities.
  • The Korean restaurant along Tanjong Pagar road where Kim Jong Nam was said to have dined in when he was spotted in Singapore in 2014.

In the deeply patriarchal North the first son is seen as the official heir of the family: founding father Kim Il-sung passed the role to his first son Kim Jong-il upon his death in 1994.

Kim Jong-un's status as merely the son of Kim Jong-il's third wife was seen as a taint on his credentials as leader, according to observers.

"The assassination, if confirmed done by the North, would be a sign of Kim Jong-un's paranoid personality," Seoul lawmaker Kim Byung-kee quoted the South's spy chief as saying in a closed-door briefing on Wednesday.

For Jun Byung-kon, an analyst at the Korea Institute for National Unification, China could also have been a factor.

Read Also: One of Kim Jong-nam's assassins arrested: Malaysian police

Beijing remains the impoverished North's economic lifeline and sole diplomatic ally, although ties have soured following a series of nuclear and missile tests staged after Kim took the helm following the 2011 death of his father.

"Even after Kim Jong-un took power, there was this atmosphere in China that the open-minded Kim Jong-nam was far better suited as leader," he said.

That gave Kim Jong-un three reasons to want his older brother dead, said Hong Hyun-ik of the Sejong Institute think tank in Seoul.

"Apart from his open criticism on the North, Jong-Nam is older, the legitimate first son...and supported by China," he said.

"They are enough reasons from Jong-un's perspective to kill him."

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