By Jun Ji-hye
Speculation is rampant on why North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's older half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, was killed in an apparent assassination suspected of having been ordered by the young leader.
One of the mounting rumors is that Kim Jong-nam was killed because of a conflict with his younger brother over money the former had inherited from their father, Kim Jong-il, as well as secret funds controlled by their uncle and former No. 2 man, Jang Song-thaek.
"North Korean trade workers in China have called Kim Jong-nam a big player in Macau," a source was quoted as saying by Yonhap New Agency, Thursday. "After Jang was purged in December 2013, his secret overseas fortune was handed over to Kim Jong-nam."
The source also said the oldest son of the late leader had also inherited "no small sum of money" as the father felt pity for Kim Jong-nam who had been living in foreign countries for years after being ousted from the race to succeed him.
Some analysts postulate that Kim Jong-un had "ordered" his estranged half brother to return to the North and to bring all the money saved in a bank in Macau with him, as the isolated country has been suffering financial difficulties due to the international community's harsh sanctions over its continuous provocations including nuclear tests. The older Kim did not comply with this order, which made the unpredictable leader "very angry," the source said, noting that the regime had been threatening to murder Kim Jong-nam for several years.
On Wednesday, Lee Byung-ho, director of Seoul's National Intelligence Service, also lawmakers Pyongyang had been attempting to assassinate Kim Jong-nam for the past five years based on Kim Jong-un's "delusional disorder."
Hong Hyun-ik, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute, said in a radio appearance, "When Kim Jong-nam was living in exile in China, he carried out deals involving North Korean weapons and managed a slush fund," noting that the money issue would have been one reason for the murder.
Japan's Jiji Press raised another speculation that Kim Jong-nam was killed because of rumors he was going to set up a North Korean government in exile and become its leader.
The newspaper also cited another rumor that he had planned to overthrow the North Korean regime in cooperation with his uncle Jang, by using China as a shield, saying such a rumor was abounding even after Kim Jong-un's succession.
Kim Jong-nam had long been protected by Beijing, while Jang played a key role in the North's diplomatic and economic cooperation with China, according to South Korean intelligence officials. Taking their close ties to China into consideration, experts noted that Pyongyang-Beijing relations are highly likely to worsen further.
Some observers raised speculation that the apparent assassination was probably the result of a "competition" between North Korean agencies, such as the Reconnaissance General Bureau and the Ministry of State Security, seeking to pledge loyalty to the young leader.
But others aren't convinced. Cheong Seong-chang, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute, said, "The assassination of Kim Jong-nam could not have been conducted without Kim Jong-un's approval."