Privilege and peril for North Korea's first family

SEOUL - Membership of North Korea's ruling dynasty brings enormous privilege, but for anyone who falls foul of the power games there is a potentially fatal price to pay.

The assassination of leader Kim Jong-Un's elder half-brother Jong-Nam in Malaysia is likely to leave other estranged and exiled relatives casting some increasingly anxious glances over their shoulders.

Chief among them is the murdered man's son Han-Sol, who lived in exile with his parents in the Chinese territory of Macau, and who with his impeccable bloodlines could be seen as a rival figurehead in a state roiled by bloody purges.

Photo: The Korea Herald/ANN

"As Kim Jong-Un's reign of terror continues, some elites in Pyongyang have started to think about possible alternatives," said Koh Young-Hwan, a former North Korean diplomat who is now a Seoul-based commentator on North Korea affairs.

"So Kim Jong-Un must have concerns about such figures. Now Jong-Nam is dead, you can say his son is also in great danger." Han-Sol, 21, is believed to have graduated from his studies at the Science Po University in France but his current whereabouts are unknown.

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.

Some analysts believe China was keeping the family under its wing in case it needed a friendly figure to serve as replacement leader in the event of upheaval in the North.

"China has been protecting Jong-Nam and his family. Therefore, he was detested all the more by the North's leader", said Kim Sung-Min, a high-profile defector who operates an anti-Pyongyang propaganda radio station in Seoul.

Back in 2012, when at school in Bosnia, Han-Sol labelled his uncle Kim Jong-Un a "dictator" in an interview in which he appeared bright and articulate and hinted at a future role in his homeland.

"I have always dreamed one day I will go back and make things better, make it easier for all the people there," he said.

"My dad was not really interested in politics," Kim said when asked why his father was passed over for the dynastic succession in favour of his younger brother.

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.

Ahn Chan-Il, a former North Korean military official and the head of the World Institute for North Korean Studies in Seoul, said that after the death of Jong-Nam, his son now had a target on his back.

"He has remained quiet for a couple of years after criticising the North once. But now that his father has been poisoned to death, he will start speaking out again some day to criticise the regime," he said.

The Kim family tree is littered with figures who met violent deaths or were forced into exile after being marked out by a regime which has never loosened its grip on power in three generations.

Jong-Nam's death evoked the fate of Jang Seong-Taek, a one-time number-two and uncle of the young ruler, who was executed in Pyongyang in 2013 for treason and corruption in a brutal display of who was now in charge.

Jang is known to have served as Jong-Nam's protector and provider, bankrolling the playboy's profligate life style.

The Malaysian assassination may be straight out of the pages of a spy novel, but North Korea has a long history of spectacular targeted killings including a 1968 commando attack on South Korea's presidential Blue House.

Yi Han-Yong, Kim Jong-Nam's cousin, was shot dead by two assassins in 1997 outside his home near Seoul after he defected in 1982 and published a memoir revealing details of the Kims' private lives.

Others have been sent packing despite posing no apparent challenge.

Kim Jong-Un's uncle, 62-year-old Kim Pyong-Il, has been living in quasi-exile for the past three decades, mostly in Eastern Europe.

Currently serving as ambassador to the Czech Republic, he was once tipped as the North's next leader.

"It's long been a taboo to talk about him and any official who tries to befriend Pyong-Il is subject to punishment", said the defector Kim.

Jong-Un's brother Jong-Chul, 35, is also known to be living in near-exile, travelling abroad and keeping a discreet distance from politics. He was spotted watching British rockstar Eric Clapton perform in London in 2015.

South Korea's spy chief said last year that Jong-Chul was living "in internal exile under tight surveillance" and was abusing alcohol and suffering from poor mental health.

"Although Jong-Chul is older than Jong-Un, it is highly unlikely that he will play any significant role in the North", said Thae Yong-Ho, former North Korean deputy ambassador to London who defected to the South last year.

"Had he been born to an ordinary family, he might have become a good guitarist", he quipped.