Kim Jong-il's eldest son calls Macau home: newspaper

Wednesday, January 31, 2007; 10:38 PM

HONG KONG (Reuters) - The eldest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has made the semi-autonomous Chinese city of Macau his home for the past three years, living a low-key but comfortable life, a Hong Kong newspaper reported on Thursday.

Macau, a former Portuguese-run enclave which returned to China in 1999, has been central to resolving the dispute over North Korea's nuclear weapons programs since the U.S. Treasury accused its Banco Delta Asia of helping Pyongyang launder earnings from counterfeit U.S. dollars and illicit drugs.

Kim Jong-nam, 35, had spent long periods living in five-star hotels in Macau while his family lived in a villa, the South China Morning Post reported.

"He has often been spotted dining and drinking in Macau restaurants and gambling in casinos and on slot machines," it added.

The newspaper quoted unnamed sources in Macau and nearby Hong Kong after what it said was a six-week investigation into Kim's life in the enclave on the South China coast known for its booming gambling industry.

The North Korean consulate in Hong Kong, which also has responsibility for Macau, declined to speak to reporters.

A press officer at the South Korean consulate said the report was surprising, but noted rumors and other reports that Kim Jong-nam had led a peripatetic life for several years and might, in fact, be unable to return home.

A Macau government spokeswoman said she could offer no information. The immigration department also declined to comment.

Kim Jong-nam has been spotted outside of North Korea, including an incident in 2001 when he was deported from Japan for trying to enter the country using a forged Dominican Republic passport. He was quoted as saying that he had wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland.

Kim Jong-il has three known sons. Jong-nam reportedly fell out of favor following the Japan incident, and focus has been on whether the North Korean leader will pick one of the others, Jong-chol and Jong-un, both in their 20s, as his successor.

The South China Morning Post said Kim Jong-nam travelled around Macau by taxi and had no bodyguards. He enjoyed the occasional late-night whisky or cognac and liked the nightclubs in the aging but iconic Lisboa Hotel, it said.

The one-time heir apparent to the world's only Communist country with a hereditary line of power has travelled extensively in recent years, including visits to Bangkok, Beijing and Europe, the newspaper said.

"He's not short of funds but he doesn't always live the high life. He has tastes that can be very down-to-earth," the Post quoted a Macau source "familiar with his movements" as saying.

"Very late at night he may stop with friends at a streetside establishment that is far from luxurious. He is low-profile, but that doesn't seem to stop him enjoying life. The guy seems to like Macau. He says he is happier there than on the mainland."

Macau is a special administrative region of China with a degree of autonomy and its own currency, but no say over foreign and defense policy.

Six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program, involving the two Koreas, Japan, the United States, Russia and host China, are due to resume in Beijing next Thursday.

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