North Korea’s ‘Princelings’ Unveiled

The existence of ‘Bonghwajo’, a grouping of the children of North Korea’s highest leadership including Kim Jong Eun, has made headlines in South Korea in recent days, raising questions about what role this group of powerful youngsters might be playing in the succession.

‘Bonghwajo’ members are said to be involved in foreign currency-earning businesses, many of them illegal, while also working in key areas of the National Security Agency, General Bureau of Reconnaissance, Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces, Central Prosecutors’ Office and other high organs. They reportedly curry favour by financially supporting both Kim Jong Eun and elder brother Kim Jong Cheol.

Therefore, one analysis has it that the Bonghwajo, which is analogous with China’s ‘Princelings’ is both a group for the strengthening of Kim Jong Eun’s power and a private bank through which to finance the successor’s activities.

Cho Young Ki, a professor with Korea University, told The Daily NK today, “Bonghwajo can be read as being Kim Jong Eun’s support group. The Three Revolutionary Teams took the initiative in the establishment of Kim Jong Il’s power, and I presume that Bonghwajo might be performing the same role.”

Professor Cho added, “Kim Jong Cheol, who lost his practical power after publicizing the succession structure, is likely to be providing this group with his support.”

Head of World North Korea Study Center An Chan Il agreed, suggesting, “It appears that Bonghwajo may be intervening in personnel management while offering funds for Kim Jong Eun obtained from foreign currency-earning businesses.”

An went on to describe a group led by Kim Jong Il’s half brother Kim Pyong Il and Oh Il Cheong (the son of former Minister of the People’s Armed Forces Oh Jin Wu) at the time of Kim Jong Il’s elevation.

An said, “Even though we didn’t know their name, there was a group that came before ‘Bonghwajo’, and the nature of ‘Bonghwajo’ could be the same as that of the group led by Kim Pyong Il.” He went on, “Kim Pyong Il worked as the group’s main leader, but then he was put in a ‘sub-branch’ and got sent overseas. But Oh Il Cheong switched line and is now a Lieutenant-General.”

The ‘Bonghwajo’ group may well consider that it is in the same boat as Kim Jong Eun. Therefore, its members are likely to work to expand their power in the Party, military and foreign currency earning organs so to ensure Kim Jong Eun’s succession and their own access to power and money for the years to come.

The core members of the Bonghwajo are said to be Oh Se Hyun, the second son of Vice Chairman of the National Defense Commission Oh Keuk Ryul, Kim Cheol, who is the eldest son of Kim Won Hong (the vice director in charge of political organization in the General Political Department of the People’s Army), Kang Tae Sung, the eldest son of Vice Premier of the Cabinet Kang Suk Ju, Kim Cheol Woong, the second son of Kim Choong Il (a former vice director in Kim Jong Il’s Secretary’s Office), and Cho Sung Ho, the eldest son of Cho Myeong Rok (former first vice chairman of the National Defense Commission).

However, professor Cho pointed out, “Even if Bonghwajo make an effort to establish Kim Jong Eun’s smooth power succession, it is doubtful whether they can reign properly. The extent of their activities and legitimacy may decide whether or not they are able to support Kim Jong Eun.”

Meanwhile, Yonhap News has claimed that drugs are so prevalent within the group that it is known as a drug club, and Oh Se Hyun has reportedly been treated for addiction.