Kim Jong Un lost as much as 20kg, South Korean spies say

PYONGYANG (BLOOMBERG) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un lost up to 20kg but has no major health issues affecting his rule, according to a South Korean lawmaker briefed by a spy agency.

The National Intelligence Service estimated that Mr Kim recently lost between 10kg and 20kg, Mr Kim Byung-kee, a lawmaker briefed by the spy agency, told reporters on Thursday (July 8).

“If there is an abnormality in his health, there should be signs that drugs are being imported to the clinic that’s in charge of Kim’s health, but that was not detected,” the lawmaker said, adding that Mr Kim Jong Un still hosts “hours-long meetings” and there’s nothing unusual about how he walks.

The 37-year-old North Korean leader was out of the public eye for much of May, and when he reappeared in a June video showing him chairing a government meeting, he looked much slimmer.

State media later ran a story citing a citizen as saying North Koreans broke down in tears at the sight of the thinner Mr Kim, comments that could have been aimed at building public support as he tries to revive a sickly economy.

Mr Kim’s weight is tracked by spy agencies for insights about the autocratic and secretive regime in Pyongyang, especially since his family has a history of heart disease. South Korean spies told lawmakers in November that Mr Kim weighed about 140kg, but they did not provide an estimate in this briefing.

Another lawmaker, Mr Ha Tae-keung, said the spy agency disclosed that the Atomic Energy Research Institute was hacked over a 12-day period but there was no leak of the “most sensitive information”, without elaborating further.

North Korea also tried to hack the National Fusion Research Institute around June 7, Mr Ha said.

The two organisations play leading roles in South Korea’s nuclear power research.

North Korea has been building up its nuclear-weapons capabilities under Mr Kim, allowing it to become bigger and better able to strike South Korea, Japan and the United States mainland.

Mr Sung Kim, the US special representative for North Korea, said last month that Washington will press ahead with United Nations sanctions put in place to punish Pyongyang for tests of nuclear devices and missiles that could carry warheads to the US.

Total trade between North Korea and China fell 81 per cent over the first five months of 2021, compared with a year ago, Mr Ha said.

Restrictions along the border with China, struggles amid the pandemic and international sanctions have the North Korean economy on track to barely grow this year, after its worst contraction in decades in 2020, Fitch Solutions said in April.

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Mr Kim Jong Un warned last month that the “food situation is now getting tense”. His nation’s perennial shortages were made worse by typhoons last year that wiped out crops and his decision to shut borders due to Covid-19, stifling what little legal trade it has.

The North Korean leader later said the country was facing a “great crisis” over a quarantine breach, though no details were provided at the time. Mr Ha said the spy agency believed Mr Kim’s remarks had to do with a delay in plans to reopen the border so that trade with China could get a boost.

There’s no evidence Mr Kim has had a coronavirus vaccine, Mr Ha added.

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