NEW YORK — Wandering through Times Square, past the Naked Cowboy and the Elmos and the ticket touts, she could be any immigrant trying to live the American Dream.
A 60-year-old Korean woman with a soft perm and conservative clothes, she’s taking a weekend off from pressing shirts and hemming pants at the dry-cleaning business she runs with her husband.
But she’s not just any immigrant. She’s an aunt to Kim Jong Un, the young North Korean leader who has threatened to wipe out New York with a hydrogen bomb.
And for the past 18 years, since defecting from North Korea into the waiting arms of the CIA, she has been living an anonymous life here in the United States with her husband and three children.
“My friends here tell me I’m so lucky, that I have everything,” Ko Yong Suk, as she was known when she was part of North Korea’s royal family, told The Washington Post on a recent weekend. “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.”
Her husband, previously known as Ri Gang, chimes in with laughter: “I think we have achieved the American Dream.”
This is the story of how one family went from the top of North Korea to middle America.
Breaking their silence in the United States, Ko and Ri spent almost 20 hours talking to two Washington Post reporters in New York City and then at their home several hours’ drive away. They were nervous about emerging from their anonymity; after all, there are Americans who analyze North Korea for a living and do not even know that the couple are here.
They asked The Post not to publish the names they use in the United States or to reveal where they live, mainly to protect their grown children, who live normal professional lives.
Ko bears a striking resemblance to her sister, Ko Yong Hui, who was one of Kim Jong Il’s wives and the mother of Kim Jong Un, the third-generation leader of North Korea. And she had a particularly close relationship with the man now considered one of the United States’ top enemies: She took care of Kim Jong Un while he was at school in Switzerland.
But in 1998, when Kim Jong Un was 14 and older brother Kim Jong Chol was 17, Ko and Ri decided to defect. Ko’s sister, their link to the regime, was sick with terminal breast cancer — although she did not die until 2004 — and the boys were getting older. The couple apparently realized that they would not be needed by the regime much longer and fled, concerned about losing their privileged status. Read More: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/the-secret-life-of-kim-jong-uns-aunt-who-has-lived-in-the-us-since-1998/2016/05/26/522e4ec8-12d7-11e6-a9b5-bf703a5a7191_story.html