Kim Jong-nam 'paranoid' during life in exile, says old school friend

The North Korean leader's half-brother was 'afraid' and 'worried', says Anthony Sahakian

Caroline Mortimer
Tuesday 21 February 2017 11:46 GMT
Kim Jong-nam has been in exile for more than a decade
Kim Jong-nam has been in exile for more than a decade (Getty)

The estranged, exiled half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un was "paranoid" before his death, a close friend has claimed.

Kim Jong-nam was "afraid" and "worried", according Anthony Sahakian, who said the 46-year-old had feared he would be seen as leadership threat following the death of their father, Kim Jong Il, in 2011.

Mr Sahakian, who attended a prestigious international school in the Swiss city of Geneva, said that his friend had feared that his brother would order his assassination, or someone would try to kill him in a bid to impress the North Korean leader.

“He was afraid," Mr Sahakian told The Guardian. "It wasn’t an all-encompassing fear but he was paranoid. He was a politically important person. He was worried. Of course he was worried."

He added that Mr Kim, who he knew as Lee, had wanted reform and to open the country up to outsiders but did not have the “character of the will” to jostle for the leadership.

His friend died at Kuala Lumpur International Airport last week when he was allegedly poisoned by two female assassins who wiped a liquid on his face.

Malaysian police have arrested a North Korean man, a Vietnamese woman and an Indonesian woman have been arrested already in connection with his death. Four North Korean suspects also fled the country, investigators said.

One of the female suspect has reportedly told investigators that she had been told she was taking part in a TV prank show and had not been aware the liquid was poison.

Mr Sahakian said his friend would talk about how the regime was run by a “gerontocracy” of old Stalinist generals who wanted to keep the country under their repressive rule.

He added that Mr Kim had a European sensibility having been educated in the West since he was 12,

“He wanted out. He never had any ambitions to rule the country. He didn’t accept or appreciate what was going on there. He kept relations with the regime at arm’s length,” he said.

Although Kim Jong Nam would insist he never formally defected from the regime he had been living in exile for more than a decade before his death.

His death came after a string of executions among the top tier of the North Korean elite.

After coming to power, Kim Jong-un has executed or purged several high ranking officials and generals including his own uncle Jang Song Thaek.

Mr Jang was once considered the power behind the throne but was denounced as “despicable human scum” by his nephew and executed in 2013.

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