The Koreas

Kim Jong-Un’s Money Manager Defects to Russia

The defection represents a serious breach that could reveal the regime’s closely held secrets.

Kim Jong-Un’s Money Manager Defects to Russia
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

According to reports coming out of South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo based on an anonymous source, a senior North Korean financier, known to manage money for leader Kim Jong-Un, defected to Russia, taking over $5 million in assets with him. The banker, Yun Tae-Hyong, is seeking asylum in a third country, according to Reuters.

Yun was a senior banker at North Korea’s Korea Daesong Bank. He allegedly is in the Russian Far East, the JoongAng Ilbo reports. “Yun officially worked as president of the bank,” JoongAngs source said, adding that “he was in charge of raising and managing slush funds for Kim in Northeast Russia.”

The North Korean government is allegedly seeking the cooperation of the Russian government in attempting to arrest and repatriate Yun, who would undoubtedly face a harsh fate in the hermit kingdom should Russia comply. Similarly, the South Korean government may offer asylum to Yun in exchange for what will likely be valuable information about the personal finances of the North Korean leader. South Korea generally gains valuable intelligence from high-profile North Korean defectors.

Should the information Yun possesses become public, it will lift the shroud of secrecy around the Kim family’s finances and global holdings. Additionally, Yun is highly valuable since he could also confirm the extent to which North Korea’s Korea Daesong Bank is involved in illegal activities worldwide, including money laundering. The bank was blacklisted in 2010 by the U.S. Department of the Treasury for “facilitating North Korea’s illicit financing projects.”

According to the U.S. Treasury Department, the Korea Daesong Bank operates under Office 39 of the Korean Workers’ Party, which is describes as “a secretive branch of the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) that provides critical support to North Korean leadership in part through engaging in illicit economic activities and managing slush funds and generating revenues for the leadership.”

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JoongAng cites other sources speculating that Yun’s flight from North Korea may have been prompted by the execution of Kim Jong-Un’s uncle and North Korea’s second-in-command Jang Song-Thaek last winter. For the moment, much of the information surrounding Yun’s defection remains apocryphal and unverified, as is the norm with North Korean defections.

High-profile defections have been extremely damaging to the North Korean regime. In October 2002, for example, Kyong Won-Ha, widely regarded as the “father” of North Korea’s nuclear program, left the country thanks to assistance from Spanish officials. Kyong took nuclear secrets with him.