Wednesday, July 9, 2003

Kim Jong-il, the secretive head of North Korea’s Stalinist regime, has a 10,000-bottle wine cellar, favors Mazda RX-7s and tuna sushi, and once sent his wife and children on an unannounced vacation to Tokyo Disneyland, according to the man who served as his personal chef for more than a decade.

Kenji Fujimoto is the pseudonym for the Japanese chef who was recruited by Mr. Kim to come to Pyongyang in the early 1980s, becoming the exclusive sushi chef to the North’s “Dear Leader” in 1988.

Revelations from his memoir, “Kim Jong-il’s Chef,” have produced banner headlines in South Korean and Japanese newspapers since the book came out late last month.

In one of the book’s racier scenes, Mr. Fujimoto describes a banquet in “a rural city” where the president suddenly ordered the dancing women hired as entertainment to strip.

The women, known as the “Group for Pleasure,” were a frequent presence at Mr. Kim’s banquets, where Japanese marching songs were often played.

The author depicts Mr. Kim as smart but hot-tempered, feasting on imported cuisine and cognac even as ordinary North Koreans faced famine and deprivation.

“His banquets often started at midnight and lasted until morning,” Mr. Fujimoto said in an interview with Japan’s Shukan Post. “As far as I knew, the longest banquet lasted for four days.

“All executives invited to the long banquets were not allowed to sleep until Kim Jong-il went to bed. It was torture for them.”

There are some substantive revelations in the memoir, including Mr. Kim’s reported admission that he had hoped to use a diplomatic opening in the waning days of the Clinton administration — capped by Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright’s visit to Pyongyang in October 2000 — to “bypass” South Korea and Japan and cut a deal directly with the United States.

The North Korean leader also is depicted as having long had a fascination with nuclear weapons, telling the author that “without nuclear weapons, we will be attacked.”

The book also described what might have been an accident at a North Korean nuclear facility in 1995. Mr. Kim is described as having shown no emotion when an aide informed him that workers at a nuclear facility had taken sick, apparently from a radiation leak.

And Mr. Kim, who succeeded his father, Kim Il-sung, as supreme leader in 1994, is said in the book to favor his third and youngest son, Kim Jung-woon, as the third-generation leader in the communist dynasty.

Western speculation has focused on the middle son, Kim Jung-chul, as being groomed by his father for the top slot. Kim Jung-chul is said to have support within North Korea’s powerful military.

But the personal details and high living behind the walls of Mr. Kim’s presidential retreats have garnered the most attention.

With his high pompadour and reputed taste for blonde movie starlets, the North Korean leader has long been a magnet for speculation about his personal life.

He had not ventured much beyond the secretive North’s borders when he took power, and has made only tightly controlled diplomatic forays to Beijing and Moscow as leader.

Mr. Fujimoto began as a personal chef, but soon found himself invited to accompany his boss on several official and unofficial outings, including water skiing and hunting.

The book confirms Western intelligence reports that Mr. Kim was hurt badly in a 1992 horseback riding accident.

He refused to take painkillers after the accident, saying that he “did not want to become a drug addict.”

In the Shukan Post interview, the chef detailed the nude dancing party, saying that the Group for Pleasure women at first “hesitated, but they had no power to resist.”

“They all took off their clothes and danced. Then [Mr. Kim] ordered his men, including me, to dance with them. He said, ‘You can dance with them, but if you touch them, you will be arrested as thieves.’”

Mr. Kim is portrayed as a confident, even arrogant executive who relies on a personal computer to keep tabs on affairs of state. He can be abrupt with underlings, and once threw a stainless steel napkin box at Chang Sung-taek, a senior party official and the president’s brother-in-law.

The president of impoverished North Korea also is shown as having a taste for rich fare.

He developed an appetite for gourmet shark fin soup three or four times a week, sampled the most exotic sushis, and imported high-quality food ingredients from across Asia and Europe. His wine cellar contained a variety of French vintages, as well as sake, and such whiskey brands as Johnnie Walker Swing and Hennessy’s XO.

Getting too close to the leader posed its own dangers. While Mr. Fujimoto enjoyed many privileges as a confidant of Mr. Kim, the chef found himself under suspicion by the regime when he was detained for two years in Japan during a visit in 1996.

When he finally returned to the North, Mr. Kim confided that he had intended to “order my people to kill you in Japan,” only to be talked out of it by his Japanese-born second wife, Ko Yong-hi.

The chef traveled again to Japan in April 2001, telling his boss that he needed to buy sea urchins. He never returned to North Korea.

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