In 2014, Ri Jong Ho grew increasingly disillusioned after Kim Jong Un suddenly denounced his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, as a “traitor for all ages” and had him executed at the end of 2013.
For three decades, Ri worked in Office 39, the Workers’ Party operation responsible for raising money for the Kim family. The office has long been associated with both legal trade and illicit activity, including counterfeiting dollars and drug smuggling. The 59-year-old and his family now live in Northern Virginia, having defected to South Korea at the end of 2014, and moved to the United States last year.
Jang had been leading economic cooperation efforts with China, and dozens of people who worked for him were also purged at the time, Ri said. He worried that his family would be next. They escaped to South Korea.
The former money man advocates an approach that combines Trump’s “maximum pressure” with another idea that the president has at least flirted with: talks.
“I think there should be top-level talks between the U.S. and North Korea, so that they can both work together to solve the problem,” Ri said.
While there is a great deal of skepticism in Washington about negotiations, that shouldn’t stop the current administration from trying, Ri said: “Like they say in politics, yesterday’s enemy can be today’s friend.”