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N.K. leader's uncle says he defected to U.S. for fear of power struggle

All Headlines 21:21 December 09, 2015

SEOUL, Dec. 9 (Yonhap) -- The uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said Wednesday he and his wife defected to the United States about two decades ago out of fear that they might be victimized in the struggle for power after the death of Kim's father.

Lee Kang and his wife Koh Young-sook, the current leader's aunt and the younger sister of Kim's mother, are known as caretakers for Kim when he was studying in Switzerland. But in 1998, they flew to the U.S. to seek asylum for unknown reasons.

"My wife chose the U.S. to find ways to treat her sister and I did so for fear of what those in power can do," Lee Kang told Yonhap News Agency by phone.

He said that he had decided to go to the U.S. out of concern for what could happen to him after the North's former leader Kim Jong-il died. His defection took place 13 years before Kim died in late 2011.

"I had felt the cruelty of power while spending almost 20 years near the North's former leader," he said.

Lee and his wife have recently been under renewed media spotlight in South Korea as Koh filed a suit with a Seoul court early this month against three North Korean defectors who have allegedly spread false information about her on South Korean TV shows.

The three defendants are allegedly spreading false remarks that Koh ousted Kim Jong-un's elder brother Kim Jong-nam and that she has been gambling or getting plastic surgery with former leader Kim Jong-il's slush fund money, according to her legal representative.

Lee said that the mother of the North's current leader was very ill, but she could not recover despite treatments in Switzerland or France. "My wife hoped that she could find ways to cure her sister in the U.S."

Kim's mother died in 2004 at a hospital in Paris after she was found to have breast cancer in 1998.

He said that he and his wife took care of Kim and his sister Yo-jung when they were in Switzerland, adding that Kim was fond of sports. Lee also left a good-bye letter to Kim when the couple left for the U.S., he recalled.

Touching on the execution of Kim's once-powerful uncle Jang Song-thaek, Lee refrained from comment.

"Frankly speaking, I cannot imagine," he added. The North's young leader ordered the execution of Jang for treason in 2013.

Lee said he is running a laundry cleaning service in the U.S. while hiding his identity.

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