This week Kim Jong-un made his first public appearance in over a month, temporarily quieting rumors that he was no longer in charge. But the Supreme Leader of North Korea isn’t the first member of his family to disappear. At this point it’s practically the family’s second business.
A totalitarian necrocracy being what it is, people with the means to escape tend to jump at the opportunity. Kim Jong-nam, big brother of Jong-un and the eldest son of the Dear Leader, Who Is a Perfect Incarnation of the Appearance That a Leader Should Have (actual title) is no exception. Jong-nam was busted with a fake passport while trying to sneak into Japan to visit Tokyo Disneyland, and was banished by his father to China. He seems to have no desire to return to North Korea, and North Korea has no desire to take him (alive).
Kim Jong-nam likes to keep his passport warm, and keeping tabs on him since his exile is like playing a real-life version of Where’s Waldo. This is a guy who doesn’t like to stay in one place for too long. Maybe it’s because he’s a rolling stone, gathering zero in the way of moss, or maybe it’s because he’s looking to avoid (another) assassin’s bullet. The latter would likely be a pressing concern when one considers what happened to Jang Song-thaek, his uncle. After falling out of Jong-un’s favor, Pyongyang issued a statement calling Jang “despicable human scum” who was “worse than a dog,” and who “perpetrated thrice-cursed acts of treachery in betrayal of such profound trust and warmest paternal love shown by the party and the leader for him.” He was quickly executed.
So where is Kim Jong-nam hanging his hat these days? He reportedly fled Macau in 2012, fearing that North Korean agents had located him. From there, he moved to Singapore, which is interesting if only because his little brother, Kim Jong-chul, was spotted there in 2011 attending an Eric Clapton concert. Earlier this year, Jong-nam surfaced in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where he was seen at a Korean restaurant. He was later recognized at an Italian restaurant in Jakarta, Indonesia—and even posed for a photo with the chef. Just recently, onlookers identified Jong-nam in Paris at Le Meridien Etoile, a luxury hotel. He was possibly visiting his son, Han Sol, who attends school at the Institut d'études politiques de Paris. (Himself having studied in Europe, Jong-nam is fluent in French.)
Even before his exile, he was known to travel the globe. Ten years ago, he may or may not have been the target of an assassination plot in Austria. (He was reportedly there to see a dentist and/or to manage the Kim family slush fund.) In 2009, he took his son to a Rain concert in Thailand. Clearly Kim Jong-nam is a guy who gets around. He’s a red trench coat and one copy of the World Almanac away from having his own video game.