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South China Morning Post
September 5, 2010 Sunday
NEWS; Pg. 3
Luxury exile of Kim Jong-il's banished son;
Man once groomed to rule North Korea lives life of leisure in Macau
Mark O'Neill in Macau
Last week, while North Korean leader Kim Jong-il was presenting his youngest son to Chinese leaders as his chosen successor, his first born and the man who should have succeeded him was leading a life of leisure and luxury in Macau, costing his father US$500,000 a year.
In Changchun , capital of Jilin province, Kim met President Hu Jintao and introduced Kim Jong-un, at 27 the youngest of his three sons and the one he has chosen to follow him as leader of North Korea.
At the other end of the country, his eldest son, Kim Jong-nam, lives with his wife and two children in a luxury home overlooking the South China Sea, passing his time in five-star hotels, brand shops, expensive restaurants, night clubs and casinos.
As Kim Jong-il's health deteriorates, Jong-un is the heir-anointed, but, young and inexperienced, he may not be accepted by the veterans of the Korean Workers Party and the military, the country's two most powerful institutions.
Twelve years ago Jong-nam was groomed to succeed his father, in the same way as he succeeded Kim Il-sung. He was given senior posts in the IT sector and the military. Then he, his son and two women were detained at Narita airport in May 2001, when he entered Japan on a fake Dominican Republic passport.
The public shame enraged his father, who banished him from high office in Pyongyang. Since then, he has enjoyed a gilded exile in Macau.
"We often see him here," said a staff member of the Lapa Hotel, formerly the Mandarin Oriental. "He comes here and other five-star hotels. I saw him three weeks ago. He does not appear to have a bodyguard. We talk in English. His is fluent, with an accent. He is easy going, with no airs."
Another member of the staff said that Kim sometimes came alone, sometimes with friends and often wore casual clothes or shorts. "You can see him walk alone on the street. Sometimes he stays in the hotel."
On June 4 this year, a reporter from South Korea's Joongang Ilbo interviewed Kim in a restaurant in the Altira, another five-star hotel. He told him that his father's health was very good and he allowed himself to be photographed.
On April 7 last year, he gave an interview to a Japanese television reporter who asked him if he would succeed his father. "If I were the successor, would you see me in Macau wearing these casual clothes and talking a holiday? I am only the son of Kim Jong-il ? I am a North Korean citizen who has the right to live in Macau and China. To call me a fugitive from North Korea is completely incorrect. "
Macau people said Kim had two residences, one in the Zhu Wan Haoyuan, an area of luxury villas on the southern tip of Coloane island. It is the most expensive housing development in Macau, with units selling for 25 million patacas and many belonging to mainlanders. The other is in the urban area, where he sleeps after late nights in a karaoke bar, the casino or night club; his three bodyguards live here.
His son, 14, and daughter, 10, live with their mother in the villa, while a mistress lives in another apartment, which is rented, in the urban area. He has a third lady, his first wife, who lives with their son at a villa which he owns in Beijing. From 2005 to 2009, his son and daughter took part in camping, city excursions, charity work and outdoor trips with Macau's Lusophone Scouts, according to the Macau Closer magazine; they also went to Mass and sang Portuguese folksongs.
"He appears to have no bodyguard and live an ordinary life," said Ricardo Pinto, publisher of Closer. "He is never invited to government events because he has no official status, only a totally private position. Macau is a very safe place and allows him to travel to other places, like Beijing and Bangkok, where he likes to go. There are many Koreans here, he likes to gamble. Portugal recognised North Korea even before it recognised China. North Koreans have a long tradition of coming to Macau," he said.
Macau people say that Kim has a wide range of friends, including South Koreans, of whom thousands live in the city. He speaks Korean, English and French, which he learnt as a student at an international school in Geneva. He often takes buses and taxis.
Like his father, he likes brand goods, which he buys at shops in the five-star hotels. Sometimes he gambles, spending several thousand US dollars, with ordinary punters and not in the VIP rooms.
He divides his time between Macau and Beijing where he owns two homes, each worth about US$1 million. He also visits Bangkok, Vienna and Moscow.
Financing this lifestyle, including the education of his children at international schools, costs at least US$500,000 a year, which he receives in the form of two open cheques each year from his father.
Sipping brandy with ice in the bar of a Macau hotel was not the future Kim Jong-il had envisaged for his eldest son. Kim Jong-nam was born in 1971 to a film actress whom Kim Jong-il met in 1968 when he was deputy chief of the Propaganda Department and already married. Kim Il-sung never accepted her as a potential first lady since she was also married, three years older than Jong-il and the daughter of a rich landlord, a "class enemy".
So Jong-nam was born in secret and given by his mother to her sister, who was living in the Soviet Union, to raise. In 1975 Kim Il-Sung learned that he had a grandson and came to accept him.
The young boy was prepared for the highest office. During his birthday celebrations, he wore a military uniform. A month before his birthday on May 10, delegations arrived bearing gifts for him from Japan, Hong Kong, Germany and Austria; among the items were a diamond-encrusted watch worth US$1 million, a gold-plated toy gun, computer games and brand-name clothes and shoes.
He used to sit in the chairman's seat in the main meeting room in the palace; his delighted father saying that, after he grew up, he would occupy it.
In 1980, he went to school in Geneva, where he learnt English and French. While there, his father fell for a dancer, Ko Young-hee, who bore him two sons, Jong-chul, in 1981, and Jong-Un, in 1983.
In 1988, Jong-nam returned to Pyongyang as chairman of the National Computer Committee. In 1995, he was made a general and head of foreign counter-intelligence in the secret police.
His fortunes received a blow in 1996 when his mother's sister defected to the west and spoke publicly about the luxury and corruption of the regime. He was also hurt by Jong-il's estrangement from his mother and devotion to Ko Young-hee, who pressed the claims of her two sons. She was treated as the First Lady, a role his mother never had.
His mother became ill and went to Moscow for treatment. He is also believed to have upset his father by his praise for China and its economic reforms, suggesting that North Korea should follow suit.
In May 2001, he went with two women and his son to Tokyo to visit Disneyland. After he was stopped at Narita airport, carrying a fake Dominican Republic passport, he and his party were put on a plane to Beijing. The affair was leaked to the media and the regime was publicly humiliated. Jong-il exiled his son.
Macau has much to recommend it - it is part of China with good law and order and has excellent hotels, restaurants shopping and entertainment facilities.
Jong-nam spent a lot of time caring for his mother, who died in Moscow in 2002. He did not return to Pyongyang for the death of his step-mother in 2004, probably from cancer; Jong-il was broken-hearted.
But he returned in February 2008 with gifts from abroad for his father's 67th birthday and accompanied him during his illness. So, while Jong-il has excluded him from the succession, he remains on good terms with his father and can go home.
September 4, 2010