From an Eric Clapton mega-fan to a sister who produces propaganda to an assassinated half brother, Kim Jong Un’s siblings have remained shadowy figures — even by North Korean standards.
But since Kim Jong Nam’s death in February, when two women lunged at him and smeared the banned VX nerve agent on him at Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpar airport, the first family of North Korea has been thrown into the spotlight. Reports soon circulated that Kim Jong Un had his half-brother, whom he had never met, killed because of fears a coup was being plotted to overthrow him.
Kim’s remaining siblings — Kim Yo Jong, Kim Sul Song and Kim Jong Chul — have remained mostly in the background since the death of their father, Kim Jong Il, in 2011. Kim Yo Jong, his sister, made international headlines earlier this month when she was voted to become an alternate member of the political bureau of the party’s central committee, the state’s Korean Central News Agency announced.
Here’s what he know about the siblings:
Kim Jong Nam:
As Kim Jong Il’s eldest child, Kim Jong Nam was poised to succeed his father when Kim Jong Il died. Jong Nam was born in May 1971 and the former dictator was reportedly fond of his first son, often dining and calling him despite raising him in secret and sealing him behind palace gates, the BBC reported. Like many of siblings, Jong Nam studied in Switzerland and lived in Russia before returning to North Korea in the late 1980s.
His chances to rule the volatile regime grew rocky over the years. He still worked for his father by serving in the regime’s internal security apparatus and the foreign exchange earning operations. But any chance Jong Nam had to become the supreme ruler officially ended in May 2001 when he was arrested at an airport in Tokyo for using a counterfeit passport, according to the BBC. He reportedly told officials he was planning to visit Tokyo Disneyland.
The incident became a source of embarrassment that drove Jong Nam into exile in Macau. He was reportedly traveling with a fake Portuguese passport at the time. In interviews, Jong Nam said he had “no interest” in becoming the next North Korean leader, according to the Telegraph. He also had a home in Beijing.
Jong Nam died in early February after two women carried out a daring assassination at the Malaysian airport. Siti Aisyah, 25, and Doan Thi Huong, 28, are on trial in connection with the death, though they have insisted they thought they were playing a prank for a reality TV show. North Korean agents are also suspected of engineering the plot.
Kim Jong Il’s eldest son could have been seen as a potential rival to Jong Un. A report by Japanese magazine Nikkei Asian Review also claimed the North Korean leader “flew into a rage” when he uncovered a coup that planned to replace him with Jong Nam.
Kim Jong Chul
Kim Jong Chul is mostly known because he is a huge fan of rock legend Eric Clapton. Several reports stated the despot’s brother was spotted at Clapton concerts in London. Japanese broadcaster TBS also said they had video of Jong Chul, donning sunglasses and a leather jacket, at a Clapton performance in 2015 — though the video has since been removed.
Thae Yong Ho, North Korea’s former deputy ambassador in London, told Reuters in February he accompanied Jong Chul to the Clapton concert in 2015. Thae, who defected from North to South Korea, was also ordered to get the tickets.
“I realized, ‘Ah! It must be Kim Jong Chol! In North Korea who else would be interested but Kim Jong Chol?’” Thae recalled to Reuters.
Jong Chol is also a guitarist.
“He’s very free,” Thae said. “But he’s only interested in guitars and music.”
It’s unclear if Jong Chol plays any role in Kim Jong Un’s regime. He left North Korea in the late 1990s and was reportedly deemed “like a little girl” by Kim Jong Il.
Kim Yo Jong
Kim Yo Jong, believed to be 28 or 30, is said to be one of the leader’s closest confidants. They both have the same mother, Ko Yong Hui. In early October, Yo Jong was elected to become an alternate member of the politiburo, the top decision-making body that Kim Jong Un presides over. The sister also replaced their aunt, Kim Kyong Hee, in that position.
Yo Jong forged a bond with her brother when they studied in Bern, Switzerland for two years. She was spotted next to Jong Un when their father died in 2011. Afterwards, sources said she helped the now-leader to consolidate power, said Michael Madden, founder of the influential NK Leadership Watch website.
Yo Jong began her career working in the regime’s Propaganda and Agitation Department, managing North Korea’s cultural affairs and news media. She was also photographed alongside her late father in a May 2009 trip in Wonsan University of Agriculture.
Madden added the appointment shows the sister’s daily activities are more substantive and more important than some analysts had contended. He said it also indicates the Ko Yong Hui line has been “conclusively established as the sole succeeding branch of the Kim family” following Jong Nam’s murder.
Kim Sul Song
The eldest daughter of Kim Jong Il was also rumored to be the former leader’s favorite child. Very few details are known about her, but she is reportedly a significant, secret player in the regime. She also previously served in the propaganda department and as Kim Jong Il’s secretary, the BBC reported.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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