Motive Theories Arise for Assassination of Kim Jong Nam

Stacey Park , Feb. 16, 2017, 11:14 a.m.


The murder of Kim Jong-nam, the exiled half-brother of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un, in broad daylight at a busy international airport, has spawned various theories about the motive behind the killing. 

South Korean intelligence said that the assassination of the elder Kim was a standing order from Kim Jong-un for the past five years, but many suspect there may have been a more urgent need to carry it out now. 

An unnamed North Korea official said Kim Jong-nam could have been assassinated after defying his younger brother’s order to return home. Kim Jong-un, unnerved by his defiance and worries that he might defect to other countries, may have ordered a hit, the official said.

“Kim Jong-un is believed to have ordered that Kim Jong-nam be assassinated before he sought asylum overseas,” the official told US broadcaster Radio Free Asia. “Kim Jong-un was apparently worried about Kim Jong-nam fleeing to the United States or South Korea out of fear of being killed.” 



Sources familiar with North Korea said that the reason why the leader Kim sought to bring his half-brother back home “immediately” may have been a handsome amount of money left by their father Kim Jong-il, the late leader of North Korea, and Jang Sung-taek, their uncle executed by the leader Kim in 2013. 

In an interview with Yonhap News Agency, the sources said Kim Jong-nam was called “deep-pocket of Macau,” after obtaining wealth left by his uncle. Kim Jong-nam also received a huge inheritance from his father who felt pity for seeing his eldest son live in exile overseas. The Chinese city of Macau is where the deceased is believed to have lived with his family. 

Cheong Seong-chang, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute, speculated that Kim jong-un may have been angered by the latest media report that confirmed Kim Jong-nam’s attempt to defect to South Korea. 

According to officials who worked under the previous South Korean government which is said to have pursued Kim Jong-nam in 2012, the scheme did not work out because Kim felt “overwhelmed” by the idea of living in the South, which is technically still at war with the North. 

“We did ask him about his defection to the South,” an anonymous high-level official for the previous Lee Myung-bak administration said during an interview with local daily Segyeilbo. “But we eventually stopped pursuing him because he saw defection to the South as being too risky.” 

Recently, a local daily reported that Kim Jong-nam had served in the 2000s as a middleman between officials in North Korea and incumbent South Korean President Park Geun-hye, who then worked as the leader of the main opposition party. 

The newspaper also reported that Kim Jong-nam, who was then living in Beijing, delivered a letter that Park wrote to Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s late leader and the father of Kim Jong-nam and Kim Jong-un, in 2005. The letter showed Park requesting help on cultural exchange programs pushed by her family-run foundation.

Kim Jong-nam was killed Monday at Kuala Lumpur International Airport after being attacked by two unidentified women with poison. Seoul’s spy agency Wednesday confirmed the death of Kim, stopping short of saying that North Korea was behind it. 

The eldest son of Kim Jong-il, he was once an heir apparent, but he had been living in foreign countries for years after apparently falling out of favor with his father for attempting to enter Japan with a fake passport in 2001.

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