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North Korea drama: Where are Kim Jong-un's brothers?

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Mr. Straub, former Korea desk chief at the State Department, believes Kim Jong-nam “is probably safe” from state assassination attempts as long as he chooses to live quietly in Macao.

'Stuff of legend'

Still, Straub compares the court drama in North Korea with that of medieval Europe in which royal rivalries and assassinations were the stuff of legend.

Kim Jong-nam, mentioned as a possible successor before Japanese immigration officials in 2001 nabbed him at Tokyo’s Narita Airport trying to enter Japan with a fake Dominican passport, has lived for years in the gambling center of Macao on the southeastern China coast.  His excuse that he wanted to take his 4-year-old son to Disneyland did not impress the Japanese authorities, who finally sent him on to China after holding him for several days.

After that, Kim Jong-nam appeared to have been on the outs with his father. He was reported in the media here to have heard of his father’s death from Chinese, not North Korean, officials while visiting Beijing but was reportedly banned from flying to Pyongyang and is believed to have returned to Macao.

Before the incident at Narita, so worried was his step mother, the mother of Jong-un and Jong-chul, that Jong-nam was a possible rival for power with her own sons that she is rumored to have wanted to have him assassinated during a trip to Europe some time before she passed away in Paris.

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