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     Feb 23, 2011

The pleasure's all the Dear Leader's
By Sunny Lee

BEIJING - When it was leaked in South Korea last week that Kim In-hye, a popular soprano, television celebrity and music professor at the prestigious Seoul National University, had habitually used violence against her students over the past 10 years - as well as mobilizing them for private functions such as her mother's birthday - media outlets quipped that she had used her students as a "pleasure squad".

The term had been used in Korea to describe groups of attractive young women enlisted to provide entertainment and even sexual services for North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and his top aides.

Little was known outside North Korea about the pleasure squad, known as Gippeumjo. For years it was such a well-kept secret that some analysts even doubted its existence. But information

has gradually emerged through the testimony of defectors such as Lee Il-nam, a nephew of Kim Jong-il who attended the same private school in Geneva as the leader's son, Kim Jong-nam, and later defected to South Korea.

As a member of the inner circle of the Kim family, he knew too much about Kim Jong-il's private life. Even though he changed his name to Lee Han-young in South Korea and went through plastic surgery, in 1997 he was shot dead by assassins sent by North Korea. Yet Lee left a memoir, called Kim Jong-il's Royal Family. In it, he described how the saga of the pleasure squad started.

In 1972, Kim Jong-il began to throw parties for his close associates. At first, they were casual gatherings of only men, who mainly drank alcohol together. But later, as from 1974 Kim was internally confirmed to become the next leader and set about consolidating his power base, female partners began to accompany them. The pleasure squad was divided into three teams: a "satisfaction team", which provided sexual services; a "happiness team", which provided massages, and a "dancing and singing team".

They were normally recruited from the graduating classes of art schools at the age of 18. After being chosen, they went through training to perform their duties immaculately. For example, "Those who were chosen to provide massages, received three to six months of professional massage training in Hong Kong or Taiwan," said Lee.

Their clients were not just Kim Jong-il, but included the senior leadership circle. They were managed by the state and served as military cadre status and retired when they reached the age of 25. At that time, they married one of Kim Jong-il's guards and usually lived in a special compound so that they had little interaction with locals. That was a way to preserve the secrecy of Kim Jong-il's private life.

The "satisfaction team" was busiest at the decadent parties Kim Jong-il personally held. According to Lee, these were usually held at 8pm on Wednesdays and Saturdays at Kim's official residence in Pyongyang, dubbed the "House of Fish". Parties usually lasted until 1am or 2am, sometimes 3am - by which time Kim Jong-il was drunk and retreated.

According to an account by a defector recruited to the pleasure squad as a schoolgirl, published in Marie Claire magazine, the Dear Leader's favorite dish at the parties was shark genitals, which he believed would "benefit his stamina and be good for his female cohorts' skin".

"Those over 165cm [tall] are excluded because Kim Jong-Il is short," Mi Hyang told the magazine, adding that the candidate's body should not have any scars or blemishes and that their voice should be soft and feminine.

The routine at the parties included eating, drinking and dancing, but usually ended with erotic games. "A favorite was a game in which the losers had to take off clothes one by one. It was enforced, regardless of men or women. If they got heavily drunk, the also played a hair-shaving game. If men lost, part of their head hair was shaved, as if it was mown. For women, their pubic hair was shaved," said Lee.

According to Lee, there were also parties devoted entirely to sex. These were held "when Kim Jong-il "was in a particularly good mood". Kim then allowed the male party participants to "select a female partner of their choice". Sometimes, the women who served in such parties were not just from the pleasure squads, but also actresses from North Korean movie hits, such as the ones who starred in The Flower-selling Girl or The Virgin Hairdresser.

"Sometimes, even actresses who were married were also summoned. What happened at the party was a secret they mustn't divulge even to their husbands. The very fact that they attended the party was top secret," said Lee. He said the "rules" were well abided by because "it was an honor to be invited to such an occasion, and it was obvious to everyone that they would be sent to a concentration camp if they leaked the news".

One of the most beguiling episodes from the party was told by Kenji Fujimoto, a former private chef for the Kim family for 13 years, in one of his books on North Korea:
Five dancers from the pleasure squad were dancing. Kim Jong-il approached them and suddenly gave an order. "Take off your clothes!" The dancers began to slowly undress themselves. Kim made another order. "Your brassieres and panties too!" The dancers looked surprised and embarrassed. But they didn't dare to disobey his order. Looking embarrassed, they took off their entire clothes and began to dance naked. Then, Kim Jong-il instructed the aides. "You guys dance too!" Kim Jong-il warned them. "It's okay for you to dance [with naked girls]. But you mustn't touch them. If you touch, you are a thief!
Some North Koreans paid the highest price for officially questioned the appropriateness of throwing such decadent parties, according to Lee.

The wife of a ranking official, Ri Myung-je, saw her husband returning home often at 3 or 4 am, intoxicated and also sometimes with his hair partly shaved. She also heard him sprouting obscenities during his sleep and realized the nature of the parties Kim Jong-il was holding.

Feeling it was not right for the then future leader of the country to hold such parties, she wrote a complaint letter to Kim Jong-il's father, Kim Il-sung, the founder of the country. But then, all letters and reports addressed to Kim Il-sung were screened by Kim Jong-il. She was found and executed by gunshot in front of other officials, Lee said.

South Korea's intelligence community has in the past crafted a personality profile of Kim Jong-il based on his sexual adventurism and decadent lifestyle. For example, Song Bong-sun, a former chief of the North Korea investigation team with the National Intelligence Service, writes in his was book that although dictators are often also playboys, Kim Jong-il's womanizing penchant was "a bit too much", pointing out that Kim acquired whichever women he liked to satisfy his libido, including the wife of a diplomat.

Song speculates that Kim Jong-il's excessive sexual appetite has a hereditary cause, evoking the fact that his father, Kim Il-sung, at the age of 70, also had an affair with a nurse, who gave birth to a baby. Kim Il-sung is believed to have established the pleasure squad in the belief that having sexual relations with young women would have the effect of enhancing his life force, or gi.

Paik Sang-chang, a South Korean psychiatrist who has been researching the mental landscape of Kim Jong-il for 30 years, sees the root cause of Kim Jong-il's womanizing as mistreatment at the hands of his stepmother.

While they may be indeed underlying psychological reasons behind Kim Jong-il's sexual desires and his secret parties, what perhaps has eluded the psycho-analysts is how Kim cleverly exploited such occasions to cultivate people's loyalty. The parties also offered him a chance to encourage competition among his aides and create fear by withholding invitations.

Before each party, Kim Jong-il prepared an invitation list, with only 40 people among his 200 associates selected for the secret affair. "Individuals whose names were missing from the list become quite worried, thinking they had fallen out of Kim Jong-il's good graces or that he was angry with them," said Lee.

Naturally, officials who were invited to Kim's private parties naturally regarded it as a sign of his trust, driving them to work harder to please the Dear Leader.

A case in point was Kim Yong-sun (1934-2003), North Korea's point man in charge of inter-Korean relations. "Although well in his old age, he practiced dance very hard, especially disco and the tango, to please Kim Jong-il at the party," said Lee. This debunks the view of Kim Jong-il as a delusional dictator with gorged on sexual excess and gourmet food. Rather, it shows a Machiavellian and calculating leader who used parties to pull the strings of the elite.

Sunny Lee (sleethenational@gmail.com) is a Seoul-born columnist and journalist; he has degrees from the US and China.

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