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Aunt of N. Korea’s Kim Jong Un Has Lived Secretly in US for 18 Years

Kim Jong Un’s maternal aunt and her husband, known in North Korea as Ko Yong Suk and Ri Gang, pose for a portrait in New York’s Times Square on April 23. They have been living in the United States since 1998, and run a dry-cleaning store. (Yana Paskova/For The Washington Post)

It is probably a very little known fact that an aunt of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has lived in the United States for the past 18 years.

The Washington Post reported Friday that Ko Yong Suk, 60, has been living an anonymous life in the U.S. with her husband, Ri Gang, and their three children, since defecting from North Korea in 1998.

Ko and Ri, once members of North Korea’s ruling family, asked The Post not to publish the names they use or to reveal where they live in the U.S., mainly to protect their grown children, who lead normal professional lives.

Breaking their silence in the United States, Ko and Ri spent almost 20 hours talking to two Post reporters in New York City and then at their home, several hours away by car.

Ko and Ri, who run a dry cleaning business, told the newspaper that their children went to great schools and were successful. “I think we have achieved the American Dream,” Ri told the Post.

Ko said that their children have no interest in Korea, North or South, she said. Their oldest son is a mathematician, their second son helps out in the business, and their daughter works in computer science.

Ko, a sister of Ko Yong Hui, who was one of late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s wives and the mother of Kim Jong Un, reportedly had a close relationship with Un because she took care of him while he attended school in Switzerland.

In 1998, when Un was 14 and his brother 17, Ko and Ri decided to defect after Ko’s sister was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer and died six years later in 2004. They told the Post that since the boys were getting older, they would not be needed by the regime much longer and fled, concerned about losing their privileged status.