Why Kim Jong Nam chose to flee to S'pore after his home was exposed to North Korean spies

Robert Toh YK
The Straits Times
19 February 2017

Mr Kim Jong Nam, the murdered estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, appeared to have maintained a relatively low profile during his time in Singapore.

According to the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo, which cited government sources, Mr Kim, who was critical of North Korea, fled to Singapore in 2012 - because his Macau home was exposed to the media and North Korean spies.

He is said to have chosen Singapore for ease of travel to Europe, where his son Han Sol was attending university.

A source in Singapore spotted Mr Kim three times within seven months - twice at a hotel lobby at Marina Bay Sands and once in Orchard Road.

However, Mr Kim appeared not to have drawn too much attention to himself here.

Staff from some 20 Korean shops and eateries in Tanjong Pagar and Bukit Timah whom the The Sunday Times spoke to did not recognise Mr Kim immediately when shown a photo of him.

They also did not recall meeting him before.

"I read a report that he had a girlfriend here," said Madam Ja Young, a Beauty World Centre shopkeeper in her 40s who was born in South Korea, but became a Singapore citizen 18 years ago.

Madam Jackie Yoo, 52, a South Korean working at a Korean barbecue restaurant in Tanjong Pagar Road, said her friend spotted Mr Kim twice in the area in 2014.

The first time was while the friend was walking along the street, and the other, when he had lunch at the same restaurant as Mr Kim.

As Mr Kim was dressed ordinarily, in a newsboy cap and jacket, her friend did not recognise Mr Kim at first glance along the street.

It was only on a second occasion, when they sat at adjacent tables in an eatery, that her friend identified Mr Kim from his photos in news reports.

He behaved normally and was alone, without any family members or bodyguards, said Madam Yoo.

When contacted, the restaurant's owner, who declined to be named, stopped short of confirming Madam Yoo's account, and merely said that North Koreans have dined in Korean restaurants in the area before.

Mr Kim also reportedly "liked" the Facebook page of Kimidori Japanese Girls Bar in Orchard Plaza.

However, staff there denied having seen him when The Sunday Times visited the bar last Friday.

One staff member, who has worked there for two years and did not wish to be named, said it mainly served an exclusive Japanese clientele, and could not confirm if Mr Kim had indeed patronised the bar.

He added that even if Mr Kim had visited the place, it was unlikely that he would have been recognised, citing a high customer turnover rate and Mr Kim's ordinary dressing.

Many North Koreans here do not appear to mingle much with South Koreans, but they do patronise shops and eateries run by them.

Madam Yoo recounted an incident two years ago when two North Korean customers ended a conversation with her abruptly after she introduced herself as a South Korean. 

Agreeing, Madam Ja said: "They don't really like to talk about their identities or country."

Mr Kim's death has left many South Koreans here with mixed feelings. "It is about their country, so it is their problem," said Madam Yoo.

Others felt that the death was tragic but were reluctant to express any sympathy, preferring to keep all North and South Korean matters separate.

When contacted, the South Korean embassy said it had no comments.

Meanwhile, the North Korean embassy appeared to be closed when The Sunday Times visited last Friday and did not reply to queries by press time.

The Straits Times

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