North Korea is more than ever a Kim family business, with leader Kim Jong-un’s older brother Jong-chol playing a key role in ensuring the regime’s longevity, while his younger sister Yeo-jong manages its coffers.
Kim Jong-chol, who is rarely spotted in public, is rumored to be in charge of Kim Jong-un’s security. There are claims that he led the operation to arrest Ri Yong-ha and Jang Su-gil, two close confidants of executed eminence grise Jang Song-taek, in December last year. And there is speculation that Jong-chol played a key role in bringing about recent negotiations with Japanese government officials to mend ties amid growing international isolation.
Kim Yeo-jong is reportedly in charge of an agency known as Room 38 under the Workers Party which manages the regime’s coffers and businesses that earn foreign currency. The agency used to be overseen by Jang’s widow, Kim Kyong-hui, who is also Kim Jong-un’s aunt, but Yeo-jong gained control after Jang was executed.
One bureau in the agency exports herbal medicine, rare plants and high-quality lumber, while another oversees a glitzy new department store in Pyongyang as well as 124 other department stores across North Korea. Due to Kim Yeo-jong’s influential position, business is booming, and modern coffee shops in these stores are apparently packed with customers.
North Korea experts say Kim Jong-un, who used to depend heavily on his uncle and aunt, feels he is safer entrusting his siblings with influential jobs.
His half sister Sol-song also apparently holds a key post. Kim Sol-song is the eldest daughter of former leader Kim Jong-il’s second wife, Kim Yong-suk, and majored in economics and politics at Kim Il-sung University. She has served in the Politburo as well as other key posts including the propaganda department. Ken Gause of CNA Corporation said recently that Sol-song has taken charge of the Workers Party secretariat, which would put her at the apex of the organization that controls information flow.
Only Kim’s older half-brother Kim Jong-nam was sidelined in the power struggle early on and lives in lavish exile.