North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

Ri Chol to Leave as UN & CH Diplorep

Yonhap, citing a source in Berne and general diplo gossip, reports that Ri Chol is leaving his posts.  He is concurrently the DPRK’s Ambassador to Switzerland and to the UN Mission in Geneva.  While Ambassador Ri has these official titles, he is also Kim Jong-il’s personal representative and proxy in Europe.  He appeared in late 2009 to offer the country’s response to the UN’s special report on human rights.  He is also a significant personality in KJI’s Personal Secretariat, managing the Kims’ financial accounts in European banks.

“It appears almost certain that Ambassador Ri is leaving,” a diplomatic source in Bern said on condition of anonymity. without elaborating where he obtained the information. “But the timing is unclear whether it will be in weeks or take a couple of more months.”

Talk of Ri’s departure is widespread in the diplomatic community in Switzerland, the source said.

“I think that the high attention he’s drawing here is because Ambassador Ri has stayed in Switzerland for so long and because he drew media attention from time to time with reports that he’s taking care of Chairman Kim Jong-il’s slush funds,” the source said, referring to the North Korean leader’s official title, chairman of the country’s powerful National Defense Commission.

Ri Chol is an alumnus of the Mangyongdae Revolutionary School and Kim Il-sung University.  His first notable position was as a bureau director in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the early 1970’s.  He was promoted to be MOFA’s Director-General of the Protocol Bureau in 1974.

Ri Chol speaking about the DPRK's human rights record at the UN in Geneva on 7 December 2009 (Photo: Yonhap)

In 1980, he became a deputy director of the Organization and Guidance Department and an aide in the Personal Secretariat.  He was also made a Councilor to the DPRK’s UN Mission in Geneva.  In 1987, Ri Chol was appointed DPRK Ambassador to the UN Mission.  Between his promotions, he attended to the education of KJI’s eldest son Kim Jong-nam in Geneva.  In 1988, Ri Chol was appointed DPRK Ambassador to Switzerland and divided his time between Berne and Geneva.  In the mid-1990’s he once again hosted brothers Kim Jong-chol and Kim Jong-un as well as KJI’s youngest daughter Kim Yo-chong, all educated in Switzerland.

Yonhap posits that Ri Chol could be departing because his dual roles in the Personal Secretariat and as a diplomat have become untenable.  Yonhap also suggests that if succession is afoot, the Morningstar General is putting his own person in Switzerland.  Or perhaps it’s retirement.  Ri Chol’s departure might also be taken in the context of the report of Jon Il-chun‘s promotion to director of Office #39.  Another note; what does it say that someone with intimate knowledge of the Morningstar General may have been recalled?

Meanwhile, Chosun Ilbo reports that KJN, one of Ri Chol’s former charges, is sipping drinks with ROK tourists in Macau.

Kim Jong-nam

An affiliate of 38 North