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New book: Defector tells of shopping in Europe for North Korea dictators

A new book tells of Col. Kim Jong-ryul, who went on shopping sprees for North Korea dictators Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il before hiding in Europe for 16 years. His tell-all could threaten his life, he says.

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The nephew of Song Hye-rim, a woman who became either Kim Jong-il’s second wife or longtime consort, and bore his oldest son, was assassinated in Seoul in 1997 after writing memoirs about the dictator. Lee Han-young had been living in Seoul since defecting in 1982 until a pair of gunmen killed him outside the apartment of a friend.

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“Kim Jong-il’s private life is not normal,” says Mr. Chung. “It is a crime to speak out about it.”

It is even a crime to have known anything about it, according to a book published here by Kim Young-seung, a schoolgirl friend of Ms. Song.

Ms. Kim, held for nine years in one of North Korea’s infamous prison camps for the worst political offenders, says she never was told the charge against her but came to know during months of torture that her offense was that she had been "a friend of the second wife of Kim Jong-il, and I knew about his private life.”

Her closest relatives were imprisoned as well. During her imprisonment, her parents starved to death, one of her sons drowned, another was shot trying to escape, and her husband "disappeared.”

"Even the beasts would be ashamed to be there," Kim says.

Her story provides remarkable fresh clues into the private life of Kim Jong-il, who left Song for his third consort, Ko Young-hee, a dancer and mother of sons No. 2 and 3. The latter is the heir-apparent Kim Jong-un, who is in his 20s.

After being freed from prison around 1989, Kim escaped to China in 2001, a year before Song died in exile in Moscow, and then to South Korea via Vietnam. Ms. Ko, who was diagnosed with breast cancer, died two years later.

Kim Young-seung knows she may be at risk but does not feel afraid. “This is my story,” she says, smiling slightly and pulling a copy of her book from her handbag.

Villas and luxury cars amid poverty

Kim Jong-ryul’s story provides still more glimmerings. Kim Il-sung “only ate foreign food" and had his chefs study in Vienna, he said. He had a passion for high-priced foreign cars, ranging from Mercedes-Benz and Citroens to Cadillacs and Lincolns, made in the lairs of his worst enemy, the United States.

The leader’s shopping lists for Europe included luxury goods ranging from carpets to gold-plated guns.

The former colonel’s account, says Peters, the activist, “highlights the perverse contrast between the lives of the Kim family dynasty and the tens of millions of beleaguered North Korean peasantry.”

Kim Il-sung died just as North Korea was entering a famine in which 2 million people are estimated to have died.

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