The Mystery of Kim Jong Nam


Poisoned and left to die, the playboy half-brother of North Korean tyrant Kim Jong Un staggered through the fourth floor of a Malaysian airport, looking for anyone to help him.


He desperately ambled about 50 feet and found a receptionist at the airport service counter.


Clinging to life, Kim Jong Nam managed just a few words that would turn out to be his last: “Very painful, very painful, I was sprayed liquid,” according to reports citing the China Press, a Chinese-language paper in Malaysia.


The staffer flagged down an auxiliary policeman, who helped take the portly Jong Nam to a clinic on the airport’s third floor.


But he quickly slipped into unconsciousness.


North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, left, and Kim Jong-nam, right. Picture: AP


It was over in about 15 seconds. Two women approached Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korea’s dictator, on Monday at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, and one touched his face with a wet cloth. Airport surveillance video showed one of the alleged killers wearing and a shirt that said “LOL.”

Malaysia’s investigation into the murder continued today, with no evidence to implicate Kim Jong-un. There are no signs that Mr. Kim, 45 years old, harboured ambitions to return to North Korea or had encouraged the overthrow of the current regime.

Yet North Korean propaganda emphasises that the Kim family are the country’s only legitimate rulers. Mr Kim could never escape the assumption by many outsiders that if his half-brother’s dictatorship was deposed, he could be tapped to lead a transition to a free, democratic North Korea.

Since he took power at the end of 2011, South Korean authorities estimate that Kim Jong Un has purged more than 100 senior officials and ordered the execution of his uncle. A South Korean politician said on Thursday that North Korea was behind the alleged assassination.

North Korea’s ambassador to Malaysia said that South Korea was trying to distort public opinion and politicise the incident. “We will respond strongly to the moves of the hostile forces towards us with their intent to besmirch the image of our republic,” Ambassador Kang Chol said.

Many details of Kim Jong-nam’s life only deepen the mystery surrounding his death. He had little apparent political ambition and embraced indulgences ranging from Portuguese wine to Salvatore Ferragamo loafers to nightclubs across Asia. He had a dragon tattoo on his back.

He had a sharp intellect and enjoyed discussing global events, some people who knew him say. Kim Jong-nam also spoke five languages and was concerned by terrorist incidents in Europe, where he had studied. One friend who saw Kim Jong-nam a month ago in Paris said he seemed uncomfortable being the son and grandson of dictators.


The exterior of a residential building where Kim Jong-nam was believed to have lived, in the Taipa district of Macau. Picture: AFP


“Kim was an intelligent freethinker who valued his freedom,” said a friend of Kim Jong-nam. The friend recalled him saying he felt “sorry for the North Korean people” and hoped to work toward Korean unification.

Malaysian police have arrested four people allegedly connected to the death: a woman with an Indonesian passport, a woman with a Vietnamese passport, a man who was the Indonesian woman’s boyfriend and a man with a North Korean passport. On Friday, Indonesia’s national police chief said the Indonesian woman was duped into thinking she was part of a comedy show prank, according to the Associated Press.

46-year-old North Korean citizen, Ri Jong Chol, is the first person from the North to be detained over the case.

Kim Jong-nam’s status in North Korea’s ruling family was complicated from his birth in 1971. The product of an affair between Kim Jong Il and an actor, Kim Jong-nam, was mostly raised away from the Kim family home because his grandfather, North Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung, disapproved of his father’s dalliance, according to some historians. As the firstborn son in a conservative patriarchal culture, Kim Jong-nam was thought by outsiders to be the eventual heir.

He grew up in separate households from his half-brother in Pyongyang, never met him and spoke with “a modern South Korean accent,” reflecting his interactions with South Koreans abroad, according to a friend. The friend said Kim Jong-nam knew his father as “caring in private and distant in public.”


An oceanfront villa (centre L), one of the properties where Kim Jong-nam was also believed to have lived. Picture: AFP


While studying in Moscow and Geneva in the 1980s, Kim Jong-nam became interested in computers and was given responsibility for technology projects when he returned to North Korea. His work took him around Asia.

On a trip to Japan in 2001, he was caught entering the country with a fake Dominican Republic passport and deported to China.

Kim Jong-nam never returned to live in North Korea. He told a Japanese journalist that he remained on good terms with his father, spoke to him regularly by telephone and occasionally visited him in Pyongyang. Some analysts said Kim Jong-nam might have had a role in developing economic ties with China.

In Beijing, he lived in a gated, American-style suburban housing complex called Dragon Villas, according to current and former residents. The tree-lined community with a clubhouse is near Beijing’s international airport and a golf course and is home to a mix of senior Chinese executives and expatriates.

Police began around-the-clock patrols after he moved in. A blue Buick with a security guard was always stationed outside Kim Jong-nam’s red brick home, according to a former resident. On Thursday, a black van with tinted windows was parked outside, and what appeared to be plainclothes police patrolled on foot.


North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, front left, sits beside his firstborn son Kim Jong-nam in a photo with other family members in 1981. Picture: AAP


He was sometimes spotted strolling through the neighbourhood, the former resident said. A housekeeper would usually take his huskies for walks, this person said. It isn’t clear whether Mr Kim owned the home. Real-estate listings show that houses there sell for more than $1 million.

In recent years, he lived in the Chinese territory of Macau, which offered a low profile and comfort despite a cat-and-mouse game with journalists. Kim Jong-nam told a Japanese journalist that he felt free and safe in Macau, adding that he was watched over by authorities there.

On Friday, a resident of an upscale apartment complex in Macau where Kim Jong-nam lived said he would occasionally appear with young, pretty women on his arm. He was married, but local journalists reported that he was known to have a mistress who had worked for North Korea’s state airline. A son and daughter, now both adults, attended scout meetings and Catholic Mass on Sundays. Ricardo Pinto, the editor of a magazine in Macau, said Kim Jong-nam had a series of residences, including hotels and apartment units. At least one was vacated after it was located by journalists, the editor said.


Watch: Two Women Arrested in Kim Jong Nam Killing



Watch: Woman detained in murder of Kim Jong Un’s half-brother



Assassin thought murder of Kim Jong Un’s half-brother was a ‘prank’


A woman wearing an “LOL” shirt was busted in the fatal poisoning of North Korean despot Kim Jong-un’s half-brother — and told later cops she thought it was a “prank” and not an assassination.

Doan Thin Hoang, 28, was not laughing out loud when Malaysian police arrested her Wednesday at Kuala Lumpur International Airport before she was able to board a flight to Vietnam.

Investigators identified her from surveillance footage they collected at a cab stand outside the airport’s departure terminal that showed Hoang in her “LOL” shirt.

Under questioning, Hoang told police that she thought Kim Jong-nam’s murder was nothing more than a “prank.”

“One of the girls was told to hold a handkerchief on the face of the victim after he’d been sprayed by the other girl,” a police source told The Telegraph of Monday’s murder. “She held it there for 10 seconds. She said she thought spraying him had been a prank.”

But things turned deadly serious when Kim staggered to an airport receptionist while he was on the verge of passing out, police said. The pudgy playboy was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

Hoang’s alleged female accomplice was arrested in connection with the death Wednesday night. Four suspected male cohorts were still at large.

An autopsy was performed on Kim Jong-nam, but Malaysian authorities have not released the results.

Police do not have a motive for the crime, but all signs aere pointing to his powerful half-brother, Kim Jong-un, with whom he had a rocky relationship.

Five years ago, Kim Jong-nam sent a letter to the tubby North Korean tyrant, begging the 33-year-old to stop trying to kill him and his family, Reuters reported Wednesday.

“We have nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. We are well aware that the only way to escape is suicide,” Jong-nam wrote to Jong-un, who replaced their dictator dad, Kim Jong-il, after the dictator died in 2011.

As soon as Jong-un was anointed supreme leader, Jong- nam became a vocal critic of his half-brother while living in exile after his 2001 arrest for possessing a fake passport.

That’s when the bad blood started between the half-siblings, with Jong-nam surviving two assassination attempts, in 2010 and 2011. Jong-un was believed to be behind both botched hits.

Until his embarrassing bust, Jong-nam was being groomed to succeed his father.