When North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was born, his elder half-brother Kim Jong Nam was studying overseas. Kim Jong Un was brought up by a mother who saw her husband’s first family as rivals to her own sons. Brought up separately, Kim Jong Un was never going to be close to his eldest brother.
Indeed, according to Japanese journalist Yoji Gomi, the two brothers never even met.
This did not stop Kim Jong Nam openly criticizing his sibling years later, saying that the new North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was too weak to maintain control over the country and was a puppet for regime elders. Such criticism is unlikely to have gone down well in Pyongyang, which often reacts angrily to any perceived slight, particularly from overseas.
Kim Jong Nam told Gomi that North Korea would collapse without necessary reform, his half-brother Kim Jong-un would not last long as a leader and hereditary succession was a “joke to the outside world”.
Speaking to reporters last week, Gomi said Kim Jong Nam’s comments were known within the country. “A defector told me there was a rumor the oldest son of Kim Jong Il had said critical words about North Korea and could be a cause of [reform],” he said. “That person mentioned the rumor gave him hope.”
Gomi first encountered Kim Jong Nam during a chance meeting at Beijing airport in 2004, leading to an exchange of 150 emails and then two interviews in 2011.
South Korean lawmaker Lee Cheol-woo, citing a National Intelligence Service briefing, said that Pyongyang had been attempting to assassinate Kim Jong Nam for five years. A North Korean man jailed for spying in South Korean in 2012 reportedly said he had been ordered to kill Kim.
Another lawmaker, Kim Byung-kee, said that Kim Jong Nam had written to his brother in 2012, asking him to spare his life and those of his family. According to the South China Morning Post, friends of Kim Jong Nam in Macau said he told them he felt he was living on “borrowed time.”
[CNN / The Telegraph]