North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s maternal aunt has been living in the United States for 18 years — and the Washington Post’s Anna Fifield tracked her down.
The dictator’s aunt was known as Ko Yong Suk to his family although she goes by a different name in the United States, a name withheld by the Post to protect her safety.
Ko and her husband — known as Ri Gang to the North Korean regime — live several hours outside New York City, where they operate their own dry cleaning store. They have three grown children who also live in the United States.
“I think we have achieved the American Dream,” Ri said.
“My friends here tell me I’m so lucky, that I have everything,” Ko said. “My kids went to great schools and they’re successful, and I have my husband, who can fix anything. There’s nothing we can envy.”
In their interview with the Post, the couple shed light on the leader of the Hermit Kingdom.
Ko said she is certain that Kim Jong Un was born in 1984, despite reports that the dictator was born in 1982 or 1983.
“He and my son were playmates from birth,” Ko said. "I changed both of their diapers.”
Before they defected to the United States, Ko cared for her nephew, whom she refers to as “Marshal Kim Jong Un,” while he attended school in Switzerland.
“We lived in a normal house and acted like a normal family. I acted like their mother,” Ko said. “I encouraged him to bring his friends home because we wanted them to live a normal life. I made snacks for the kids. They ate cake and played with Legos.”
Ko said her nephew “wasn’t a troublemaker but he was short-tempered and had a lack of tolerance.”
“When his mother tried to tell him off for playing with these things too much and not studying enough, he wouldn’t talk back but he would protest in other ways, like going on a hunger strike,” she continued.
Ko also said Kim Jon Un was “obsessed” with basketball, and “he used to sleep" with his basketball.
She added that Kim Jong Un had been raised knowing he would inherit North Korea, and generals had bowed to him as a child.
“It was impossible for him to grow up as a normal person when the people around him were treating him like that,” Ko said.
Scoop: @annafifield talks w/ Kim Jung Un's aunt and uncle, who secretly defected to the US in 1998 https://t.co/Z4QBGtmphP #NorthKorea— Washington Post PR (@Washington Post PR) 1464347884.0
According to the report, when the couple first came to the United States, the CIA gave them a one-time payment of $200,000, which they used to buy their house. Although separated from the regime by time and distance, operatives from the CIA’s national clandestine service occasionally request Ko and Ri's assistance in identifying people in photos of North Koreans.
Ri said he wants to return to North Korea one day to act as an intermediary for the United States.
“My ultimate goal is to go back to North Korea," Ri said. "I understand America and I understand North Korea, so I think I can be a negotiator between the two. If Kim Jong Un is how I remembered he used to be, I would be able to meet him and talk to him.”
Ko said she missed her home town, but she has no wish to return.
“But how can I change my stubborn husband’s mind?” she asked.
Follow Kate Scanlon (@kgscanlon) on Twitter