WASHINGTON (AFP) - The aunt of North Korea's supreme leader Kim Jong Un lives anonymously in New York, where she runs a dry-cleaning business after having defected in 1998, The Washington Post reported Friday (May 27).
Ko Yong Suk - who lives with her husband Ri Gang and their three children under assumed names - was the sister of Ko Yong Hui, one of former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's wives and mother of Kim Jong Un.
Close to North Korea's communist regime, the couple was sent to Switzerland to look after members of the ruling family studying there, including Kim Jong Un.
"He wasn't a troublemaker but he was short-tempered and had a lack of tolerance," Ko said of Kim. "When his mother tried to tell him off for playing with these things too much and not studying enough, he wouldn't talk back but he would protest in other ways, like going on a hunger strike."
Ko said Kim was born in 1984, meaning he was merely 27 when he took over from his father Kim Il Jong in 2011, not 33 or 34 at the time as previously believed.
Ko's own son was born the same year and the two boys would play together.
"He and my son were playmates from birth," she told the Post. "I changed both of their diapers." Kim's main interest was basketball, Ko said.
"He started playing basketball, and he became obsessed with it," she said, adding that he even slept with a basketball.
Kim is reported to have been a Michael Jordan fan and as leader hosted former basketball star Dennis Rodman several times in Pyongyang.
Kim knew since 1992 that he would become North Korean leader, Ko said. The signal came during his eighth birthday, when he received a general's uniform and the country's military top brass bowed to him.
It remains unclear why Ko defected to the United States, where she arrived with her husband after showing up at the US Embassy in the Swiss capital Bern.
However, Ko's sister had terminal breast cancer and the couple may have believed they would lose their privileged status after the children in Switzerland grew up, the Post reported.
After months of questioning, they were eventually resettled in New York, where they started new lives under new names not revealed by The Washington Post, establishing a business with financial help from the CIA.
"My friends here tell me I'm so lucky, that I have everything," she said.
Ko's three children went to college and found jobs in the United States, the Post reported.
Although the couple still cooperate with the CIA, Ko's husband Ri insisted they betrayed no secrets.
"They (the CIA) thought we must know some secrets, but we didn't know anything," he said. "We were just looking after the children and helping them study."