Monday, February 05, 2007

Kim Jr. in Macau

WSJ - Feb. 5, 2007

It's illegal for North Koreans to leave their country without permission -- a crime for which some of those caught and repatriated by China have paid with their lives. There's one North Korean, however, for whom Beijing rolls out the welcome mat: Kim Jong-nam, the eldest son of dictator Kim Jong Il.

According to a report in Hong Kong's South China Morning Post, Kim Jr. has been residing for the past three years in the Chinese-affiliated territory of Macau, where he's been living the high life at five-star hotels, gambling at Macau's famous casinos and relaxing with friends and family.

The paper reports that the North Korean scion makes occasional pleasure trips to Thailand and Hong Kong on Portuguese and Dominican Republic passports. Lisbon denies it, but the Dominican Republic, Macau and Beijing have kept mum. This isn't the first time the younger Kim has turned up outside his homeland. The Japanese caught him and his young son trying to enter Tokyo on a fake DR passport in 2001, apparently trying to visit Disneyland.

While the 35-year-old enjoys himself in Macau, his 23 million countrymen suffer in the world's most isolated regime. Thanks to malnutrition, most North Koreans are a good foot shorter, on average, than South Koreans. Mr. Kim is well fed and reportedly enjoys late-night whiskey and cognac. His life of luxury is a reminder of how North Korean elites profit from the exploitation of the country's workers.

It's also a reminder of another Macau-North Korea connection that Beijing would like to forget -- the laundering of ill-gotten North Korean money at Macau's Banco Delta Asia. After the U.S. Treasury put the bank on a watchlist in 2005, the Macau government froze $24 million in North Korean accounts and other banks refused to do business with Kim's regime for fear of also being cited.

The six-party talks resume Thursday in Beijing, and Pyongyang is demanding that the U.S. lift sanctions on Banco Delta Asia and hand over the $24 million. Doing so would only encourage Kim Jong Il in the pursuit of the illicit activities that make it possible for him to pay off the generals who sustain his regime -- and keep his son living it up in Macau.

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