The name Kim Jong-nam recently dominated world headlines once again as reports of his assassination spread. For those unfamiliar with him, Kim Jong-nam is the elder half brother of North Korea’s current leader, Kim Jong-un.

As the eldest son of former leader Kim Jung-il, he was made heir apparent in 1994 yet lost favor in 2001.

Early Life

Kim Jong-nam was the son of Kim Jong -il and Song Hye-rim. Song Hye-rim is one of the three women who is factually known to have a child by the old leader. At the time, Kim Jong-il had wanted to keep his affair with Song a secret. Their liaison was not favored by Kim Il-sung, the leader of that time, so Kim Jong-nam was kept out of school.

Instead, the young Kim Jong-nam was sent to live with his mother’s sister, Song Hye-rang, who was willing and able to educate him in her home. From Song Hye-rang’s reports, it was plain that Kim Jong-nam shared the same personal attributes as his father. She called him hot-tempered, sensitive, and quite gifted in the arts.

Much like his brother, Kim Jong-nam was also interested in film making. He was purported to have made several scripts and short films despite his young age.

As Heir Apparent

It was in 1998 that Kim Jong-nam was appointed to a senior position in the Ministry of Public Security of the DPRK. This was a precursor to his eventual position of being future leader. It was also reported that he was assigned as the head of the DPRK Computer Committee. This particular department was fully responsible for developing North Korea’s information technology industry.

Despite all this, it was rumored that he had no desire, in truth, to succeed his father.

The Tokyo Disneyland Issue

It was on May of 2001 that Kim Jong-nam was arrested as soon as he arrived at the Narita International Airport of Japan. At the time, he was accompanied by two women and a four-year-old boy who was later identified as his son.

The issue was that Kim Jong-nam was travelling using a forged Dominican Republic passport using a Chinese alias, Pang Xiong. After his short detention in Japan, he was deported to China where he was quoted to have been destined for Tokyo Disneyland. In light of the furor that occurred because of this, Kim Jong-il canceled his trip to China over the embarrassment of the event.

It was shortly after this incident that it was rumored that Kim Jong-nam fell out of favor with his father. In 2003, the Korean People’s Army began a propaganda campaign under the slogan “The Respected Mother is the Most Faithful and Loyal Subject to the Dear Leader Comrade Supreme Commander”. This propaganda was made to benefit Ko Young-hee, another woman who had sons with Kim Jong-il.

At the time, Kim Jong-nam was living in Macau for an extended period which strongly lent credibility to the claims that he was to be overlooked in favor of his younger brother, Kim Jong-un.


Much later, Kim Jong-nam wrote an email to the editor of the Tokyo Shimbun and said, “After I went back to North Korea following my education in Switzerland, I grew further apart from my father because I insisted on reform and market-opening and was eventually viewed upon with suspicion. My father felt very lonely after sending me to study abroad. Then my half brothers Jong-chol and Jong-un and half sister Yo-jong were born and his adoration was moved on to them. And when he felt that I’d turn into a capitalist after living abroad for years, he shortened the overseas education of my brothers and sister.”


It was on February 13, 2017 that Kim Jong-nam was assassinated in Malaysia by two unidentified women. He was on a return trip to Macau at the low-cost carrier terminal of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. The method of his murder is still unclear.

Malaysian police confirmed that Kim Jong-nam had died while being transferred from the airport to the Putrajaya Hospital. He is survived by his six children.