How do you suppose Kim Jong Nam would like Vegas? (Update: Or not?)

I figured something bad was going to happen to Kim Jong Nam after that book came out.

Well-known playboy and occasional critic of his father’s regime, Kim Jong-nam has been kicked out of luxury hotel in the Chinese gambling hub of Macau, according to a Russian newspaper.  The Arguments and Facts weekly claimed Jong-nam ran up a bill of £9,500 but was unable to pay because his credit card had been cancelled.
Jong-nam’s decadent lifestyle saw him ditched as the heir-apparent in favour of his younger half-brother Kim Jong-un.  He gave us his Visa Gold card but it ended up having no money on the account,” the mass-circulated paper quoted an unnamed source at the hotel as saying.
The management of the five-star Grand Lapa Hotel, run by the Mandarin Oriental chain, then expelled the 40-year-old from his 17th-floor room, the paper said. [The Telegraph]

Just cutting off his credit card seems to be less than a complete answer if the objective is to silence him.  I’m sure the CIA would gladly maintain Jong Nam in a comfortable lifestyle for some of the information he could offer them.  I’m sure the Chinese realize that, too. Poor Kim Jong Nam. I don’t think his troubles are over.

Update: Well, maybe. Kushibo and Spelunker point to a NYT blog post noting that the casino is now denying the story. I’d call the story “unconfirmed” at this point, but I’m not convinced it was false, at least when written. For one thing, it’s just Mark McDonald’s blog, and McDonald’s new foray into opinion journalism is giving us a good look at where his biases lie (better to know than not know, I guess). For another, that’s precisely what I’d expect the hotel/casino management to say, and also what I’d expect the Chinese government to tell the hotel to say. If Kim Jong Nam is still the living, gambling, gluttonous embodiment of Asian Communism six months from now, we’ll have a pretty good idea this story was another regrettable example of the shortcomings of post-Soviet journalism.


  1. What? No hat tip? 😉

    That is an interesting idea you have there, heading over to the American side and playing cashmere turncoat.

    But the tricky part is getting out of Dodge, er, Macau. It is a very small place with only a handful of ports, surrounded by Chinese waters all around, unless the CIA can get him out in their own boat and spirit him off to a waiting aircraft.

    And Las Vegas makes him very vulnerable to retaliatory assassination. It’s a place where freaky-looking outsiders (like the kind who might be DPRK- or PRC-hired hit men) are enough of the norm that they don’t raise suspicion.

  2. I doubt Kim Jong Nam knows anything valuable. If the CIA protects him, Joshua could rightly accuse the administration of wasting the taxpayers’ money.

  3. The original full article in a Russian magazine is more detailed than the Telegraph’s. It mentions that Kim Jong Nam has a Portuguese passport and could go to Europe. It also says that Kim Jong Un has diabetes and hypertension. The Chinese were paying the rent money for Kim Jong Nam while Pyongyang subsidized his casino gambling. He was not involved in any North Korea business activities in Macao. Funding from both North Korea and China came to an abrupt halt after the e-mail correspondence with Yoji Gomi was published, in which Kim Jong Nam was extremely critical of his younger brother.

    If the CIA wanted to interrogate Kim Jong Nam then it is not unreasonable to assume that the deed could have easily been done in Macao using persuasive Chinese female agents. Kim Jong Nam, whose nickname among Russian journalists is “Fat Bear” (the Chinese name he used when trying to visit Tokyo Disneyland), would be an ideal target for a honey trap.

  4. Kim Jong Nam, rent boy? How very capitalist to cut off his credit card. Whatever next, real employment?

  5. Spelunker, I also saw that KT post and updated my own to include that bit of speculation and Joshua’s own recommendation that KJN go to Sin City on which Macau’s renaissance is based (my mom was quite intrigued at how similar to Vegas they had made Macau’s new casinos, owned largely by the same people).

    Anyway, if I were KJN, I’m not sure how secure I’d feel about being in exile in South Korea. Following Hwang Jang-yop’s defection, the North Koreans assassinated another high-profile defector, Ri Hanyŏng, a nephew of KJI’s mistress (Kim Jong-nam’s mother) and a cousin of Kim Jong-nam himself (right?), with whom he was raised.

    That’s got to give someone pause.

  6. In my opinion, there is already enough motivation for North Korea to assassinate Kim Jong Nam based on his recent anti-Un statements. This deed is easier done in Macao rather than Seoul, just like the aforementioned honey trap. South Korea would have more incentive to protect Kim Jong Nam, so he might consider this option if he no longer feels safe in Macao. He still makes trips to Beijing as well, but China just clipped his Visa Gold card.
    I am pleased to see Russian journalists on his trail, as previously only Japanese and South Korean reporters seemed to make any effort to cover him. It’s a pity no American or British journalists are on top of this story, as I believe there is so much more to be uncovered. Did Kim Jong Nam have a secret meeting with his father in May last year when Kim Jong-il went to Beijing? (They were there during the same month). Does he know if his father met Jiang Zemin in Yangzhou last year? To this day there is still no verification of this meeting having occurred. If Kim Jong Nam defects to South Korea and takes his loved ones in Beijing with him, then he could finally spill the beans on what would be classified as China state secrets.

  7. Spelunker wrote:

    Bad news: (as in ‘unreliable obscure source in Russia’ )

    I’m going to take your little pun a step further and start referring to such unreliable information sources from Russia as the “bad news bears.”

  8. I’m still embarrassed. Give credit to the Chosun Ilbo for being the only reputable news agency to publish a disclaimer when this story broke. They quoted an unnamed South Korean government source who did not believe the Russian magazine.
    Would I still trust Russian journalists? Probably not. The only other time I sought Russian news sources was when Kim Jong-il visited Siberia last year, and I wasn’t really impressed. I thought this might be a real scoop although the source was a bit obscure, but they did claim to have travelled to Macao for interviews.
    I hope a legitimate reporter follows up on this story as Kim Jong Nam should not be too difficult to track down in Macau. Maybe the Japanese reporter who wrote the book on Kim Jong Nam (Yoji Gomi) can give us an update. I have actually established a line of communication with him, but he doesn’t always answer all of my questions.

  9. I don’t trust any news agency any further than I can throw them (or verify them).

    Back in the 1990s, in a Korean-language story, a newspaper made up quotes from my colleague and I that they said they obtained in an interview they’d conducted that never actually happened. In the 2000s, the reporter from a major American news outlet quoted something I’d said to that reporter, in such a way that it looked like a direct quote about that topic; in fact, it was an out-of-context quote about a completely different subject months earlier, used in such a way that it looked like I was supporting a position I was quite opposed to (I later received an apology).

    Since I know that this is how even “legitimate” news agencies sometimes operate, I don’t trust anything the press says until I can verify it.

  10. Nevertheless, I suppose Joshua is being appropriately prudent in moving this story into the “unconfirmed” column (in the update) instead of “false.”

  11. For what it’s worth, the South China Morning Post mentioned that Kim Jong Nam has indeed stayed in the Grand Lapa before. This is according to their own archives, and I consider SCMP a legitimate news source, so perhaps the hotel has been inconsistent with their recent recollections. Maybe the Russians chatted with a lower level manager in the accounts department and the New York Times blog called and asked to speak directly to the top General Manager.–kicked-out-of-luxury-hotel

    I can certainly understand why a luxury hotel would not be keen on announcing to the world that Kim Jong-il’s son is staying on their 17th floor. The denial could be an attempt to dissuade more journalists and paparazzi from overcrowding the elevators and hanging out in the stairwells. By this time I suppose every manager, maid, and bellhop has received the official memo instructing them not to discuss Kim Jong Nam with anybody.

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