Mr Kim of Macau? N Korea's family mystery deepens

There are no signs of life behind the bay windows of the cream-coloured seaside villas on a secluded side of Macau, reportedly home these days to the eldest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

After news reports last week that Kim Jong-nam (35) and his family had taken up residence in the former Portuguese enclave, and a Japanese newspaper published a photo of him, a media circus arrived and staked out this normally quiet compound.

“He’s here in Macau. That’s true,” said a watchman, who looked at once amused and annoyed by the sudden interest in the four-storey homes along the sunsoaked Rua Dois Dos Jardins De Cheoc Van. “But he doesn’t live in here.”

At the Mandarin Oriental in downtown Macau, an employee said she had seen a lot of him in the hotel over the years, but didn’t know what he did there.
“We just call him Mr Kim,” she said.

Much about a country that’s nicknamed the Hermit Kingdom because of its isolation remains a mystery to outsiders. In the world’s only Communist dynasty, its highly secretive “royal family” may be the ultimate enigma.

With six-country talks on North Korea’s nuclear arms programmes getting under way in Beijing, the presence in Macau of Pyongyang’s one-time heir apparent raised fresh questions.

“It’s another piece of the puzzle,” said Jorge Godinho, an anti-money laundering expert at University of Macau.

Macau is where North Korea did most of its international banking until late 2005, when Washington accused the city’s Banco Delta Asia of helping Pyongyang launder money and engage in other illicit activities, and threatened to take action.

The Macau government, under United States pressure, froze $24-million in North Korea-linked accounts, prompting Pyongyang to boycott the six-way talks for over a year until December.

Who and when

Kim junior’s appearance in Macau is also a reminder that Kim senior, who turns 65 next week, has yet to anoint a successor from among his three known sons.

“It’s not natural. It means there’s some kind of struggle going on,” said a diplomatic source who follows North Korea.

The eldest Kim, Jong-nam, is widely regarded as being out of favour since he was deported from Japan in 2001 on suspicion of trying to enter using a forged Dominican Republic passport. He was quoted as saying he had wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland.

The fact that he lived “freely” outside North Korea was proof he was not in the running, said Noriyuki Suzuki, chief analyst at Tokyo-based Radiopress, which monitors North Korean media.

“That means whatever happens to him will not affect the North Korean regime. He could be assassinated or kidnapped any time if someone really wants,” he said.

Recent speculation has tipped son number two, Jong-chol, as the most likely successor. He was given a post in the ruling Worker’s Party in the propaganda division, intelligence sources cited in South Korea’s media said—Kim Jong-il held a similar job before succeeding his father, Kim Il-sung.

But a former chef for the North Korean leader wrote that Kim Jong-il did not think Jong-chol had the ability to lead.

“He won’t do,” the chef, who uses the pseudonym Kenji Fujimoto, quoted Kim Jong-il as saying. “He’s like a girl.”

Last June, Japan’s Fuji TV aired footage of a man they said was Jong-chol in Europe where he had apparently caught four Eric Clapton concerts and was travelling with a young woman.

Kim’s number three son, Swiss-educated Jong-un, thought to be 23, is considered the most capable of the three brothers and the favourite—but due to Confucian tradition, where seniority is key, it may be difficult for the youngest to succeed. - Reuters

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