Slimmer Kim Jong-un not using body double, says S. Korean spy agency


North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who is overweight and a smoker, has been the subject of health speculation for years.- AFP/KCNA

PYONGYANG (Bloomberg): North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has dropped about 20 kilograms (44 pounds), South Korea’s spy agency believes, and it dismissed speculation he was using a body double.

Kim tipped the scales at about 140 kg in 2019 and has dropped weight since then, the agency told lawmakers Thursday (Oct 28). Its estimates were based on optimal facial analysis, weight-tracking models and an analysis of high-resolution video, ruling party representative Kim Byung-kee told reporters.

The agency said rumours the North Korean leader had been using a body double were groundless, based on their analysis that also used artificial intelligence. It added Kim appeared to be in good health, the lawmaker said.

The 37-year-old leader -- overweight and a smoker -- has been the subject of health speculation for years and his public appearances are closely tracked for insights about the autocratic and secretive regime in Pyongyang, especially since his family has a history of heart disease.

Kim has cut a much trimmer figure at his public appearances over the past few months, including a military parade in September and an expo of the state’s latest nuclear-capable weapons in October.

He has been looking to rally support as North Korea is facing one of its worst food shortage in years. The North Korean leader said he feels like he’s walking on thin ice, referring to the food shortage problem, according to Kim Byung-kee.

"Kim instructed authorities to secure as much food as possible,” the lawmaker said.

Kim Jong-un’s decision to shut borders due to Covid has made matters worse, cutting off its little legal trade and helping cause one of the biggest economic contractions in more than two decades, according to Fitch Solutions.

North Korea’s trade with its main partner, China, dropped to about US$185 million from January to September this year, a third of what is was a year earlier, lawmaker Ha Tae-keung of the opposition People Power Party told reporters after the briefing by the spy agency. Ha added that Kim Jong-un "mismanaged” North Korea’s economy, with the inflation rate surging and the country unable to print money notes due to ink and paper shortages.

The South Korean agency also said North Korea may have reprocessed spent fuel rods at its plutonium-producing Yongbyon nuclear facility from February to July. Its assessment was in line with analysis from the United Nations atomic watchdog released in late August.

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