Kim Jong-il’s eldest son Kim Jong-nam, 37, would usually have been regarded as the natural successor to his father under Confucian tradition. But the playboy with a penchant for discos, casinos and brothels caused an embarrassing scandal for Pyongyang when he was caught trying to sneak into Japan on a fake Dominican passport in 2001. He then spent time partying and gambling in the former Portuguese Chinese enclave of Macau. Nonetheless, if he is seen subsequently to have atoned and repented, he could still be rehabilitated.
In his 20s, he seemed to be on the fast-track to succeed his father after he was appointed to a senior post in the domestic intelligence agency where, according to defectors, he oversaw a major purge that ended in dozens of executions. He also held positions in the secret police, army and Workers' Party, and known as "Comrade General" after his father promoted him to that rank at age 24.
Travel restrictions did not apply to him and he was believed to be regular visitor to Japan, where he developed his interest in information technology. But later in 2001 came the incident at Narita airport that began his fall from grace. His wayward reputation was sealed when Japanese media published an interview with a prostitute who said he visited her brothel and had a huge tattoo of a bear on his back.
But Kim Jong-il himself has often also been described as a communist playboy with a taste for expensive cognac and Western movies, so his oldest offspring's behaviour may not count against him in perpetuity.
[Excerpts of a Telegraph article]