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It's Rumored that N. Korea's Kim Jong Il and His Son, Kim Jong Un, Used Fake Passports To Go to Disneyland. Here Are the Facts

Four Asian people stand next to each other on a white platform. A person wearing a military outflit is next to one person wearing a dark blue suit, while the person standing next to the other military person is wearing a gray outfit.
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For more than a decade, a slew of posts on Reddit and across social media have made the claim that in the early 1990s, the then-heir apparent for the leadership of North Korea, Kim Jong Il — who is still known today, even after his death, as the eternal chairman of the National Defense Commission of the republic — used fake passports to take his young son, future Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, to visit Disneyland.

For example, on Jan. 20, 2024, the Instagram account @modernnotoriety posted the following image:

(modernnotoriety/Instagram)

Meanwhile, another post on X by the account @VisionaryVoid stated the same claim this way:

The story goes that Kim Jong-Il and Kim Jong-Un, in an attempt to keep their identities concealed, acquired counterfeit Brazilian passports to gain access to international destinations, including the famous Disneyland theme park in the United States. This purported escapade was seen as an unusual and somewhat ironic move for the leaders of a secretive and isolated regime like North Korea.

Due to the various confirmed reports about members of the Kim ruling family using fraudulent passports to travel internationally, and with some, but not all, family members reportedly having visited Tokyo Disney Resort (but not Disneyland in the U.S.), this story could do with separating fact from falsehood.

Articles on the Tokyo Disney story published by U.K. news outlets Express and Telegraph, and by Al Jazeera, cited Japanese news outlets NHK and the widely read newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun. In 2011, Yomiuri Shimbun reported that on May 12, 1991 (the same year Kim Jong Il was elevated to supreme commander of the Korean People's Army), Kim Jong Un and another boy thought to be his older brother Kim Jong-Chul entered Japan using fake Brazilian passports. They were reported to have stayed in the country for more than a week, visiting Tokyo Disney on multiple occasions during that trip. According to Express:

The future leader was eight years old when he made the trip from the rogue state to Tokyo's Walt Disney inspired resort, according to Japanese broadcaster NHK.

They alleged that a number of covert tricks, illegal actions and steps were taken to ensure Kim's safety.

Reports stated that Kim Jong-un and another boy, believed to be his older brother, Kim Jong-Chul, visited the attraction "a number of times" in 1991.

The siblings were said to have entered Japan on May 12, 1991, using Brazilian passports and left more than a week later, according to newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun.

The reports said that although NHK claimed the two boys were accompanied by up to 10 adult officials from North Korea, there was no evidence that the boys' father Kim Jong Il — who ascended to North Korean leadership in 1994 and died in 2011 at age 70 — was among those adults, nor is there any evidence to suggest the family visited any Disney theme park located in the U.S. or any other Disney location throughout the world, aside from the Tokyo Disney theme park.

Separately, Reuters reported that in the late 1990s, Kim Jong Il and then-teenaged Kim Jong Un used fraudulent Brazilian passports. Both passports carried the stamp "Embassy of Brazil in Prague," and were issued Feb. 26, 1996. The subjects in the photographs used for the faked documents were confirmed as Kim Jong Un and his father, of whose birthplaces were listed as São Paulo, Brazil. Per Reuters:

"They used these Brazilian passports, which clearly show the photographs of Kim Jong Un and Kim Jong Il, to attempt to obtain visas from foreign embassies," one senior Western security source said on condition of anonymity.

Kim Jong Un's older half-brother, Kim Jong-Nam, entered Japan illegally in 2001 along with his wife, then-4-year-old son, and another woman who was believed to be either a relative or nanny, according to The Guardian and multiple outlets. They were headed to Tokyo Disney, with Jong-Nam traveling on a fake passport from the Dominican Republic. The family was detained by immigration officials at Tokyo's Narita International Airport for attempting to enter the country on false documents before being deported to Beijing. Kim Jong-Nam reportedly never made it to Tokyo Disney on that trip.

An article published by The Japan Times in May, 2001, said:

A man detained by immigration officials at Narita airport on suspicion of trying to enter Japan illegally has admitted he is the oldest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, Japanese public security officials said Thursday.

The officials quoted the man, who confirmed that he is Kim Jong Nam, as saying he wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland.

...

South Korean sources in Japan said it was "highly likely" that the detained man was Kim, adding that Kim has entered Japan before on a fake passport.

As the eldest son of Supreme Leader Kim Jong Il, Jong Nam was considered the heir apparent before reportedly being exiled to China due to the incident at Narita Airport, which is said to have embarrassed his father, thus leading to Jong Nam's swift replacement by his younger sibling Jong Un in the line of succession.

On Feb. 13, 2017, Jong Nam was assassinated at Malaysia's Kuala Lumpur International Airport at the behest of his younger brother Jong Un. The Wall Street Journal showed security footage from the airport, in which two females could be seen carrying out the attack on Jong-Nam, after he had his face swiped with a cloth said to be soaked in the deadly nerve agent VX.

Sources:

Author, No. "Son of North Korean Leader Detained at Narita Airport." The Japan Times, 4 May 2001, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2001/05/04/national/son-of-north-korean-leader-detained-at-narita-airport/.

Berlinger, Joshua. "VX Nerve Agent Used to Kill Kim Jong Nam, Police Say." CNN, 24 Feb. 2017, https://www.cnn.com/2017/02/23/asia/kim-jong-nam-vx-nerve-agent/index.html.

Faulconbridge, Guy. "Exclusive - North Korean Leaders Used Brazilian Passports to Apply for Western Visas: Sources." Reuters, 27 Feb. 2018. www.reuters.com, https://www.reuters.com/article/idUSKCN1GB2AZ/.

"Https://Twitter.Com/Historyinmemes/Status/1656426885637632003." X (Formerly Twitter), https://twitter.com/historyinmemes/status/1656426885637632003. Accessed 7 Mar. 2024.

"Https://Twitter.Com/VisionaryVoid/Status/1761445343860809900." X (Formerly Twitter), https://twitter.com/VisionaryVoid/status/1761445343860809900. Accessed 7 Mar. 2024.

"Japan Expels North Korean Leader's Son." Washington Post, 17 Jan. 2024. www.washingtonpost.com, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/2001/05/04/japan-expels-north-korean-leaders-son/ed6c37be-aa3c-4081-9ebe-663e99632675/.

Kim Jong-Un: North Korean Leader's Secret Visit to Disneyland under False Identity Exposed | World | News | Express.Co.Uk. 3 May 2020, https://web.archive.org/web/20200503030350/https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/1276988/kim-jon-un-news-dead-secret-visit-disneyland-false-identity-north-korea-asia-undead-spt.

"Kim Jong-Un 'Secretly Visited Tokyo Disneyland as a Child.'" The Telegraph, 22 Dec. 2011, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/northkorea/8972975/Kim-Jong-un-secretly-visited-Tokyo-Disneyland-as-a-child.html.

North Korea and the Brazil Passports: Why Were They Used by the Kims? 1 Mar. 2018. www.bbc.com, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-43242596.

Park, Ju-Min. "Five Years Ago, North Korean Leader's Brother Pleaded for His Life." Reuters, 15 Feb. 2017. www.reuters.com, https://www.reuters.com/article/idUSKBN15U1OR/.

"The Moment Kim Jong Nam Was Attacked: CCTV Footage." WSJ, https://www.wsj.com/video/the-moment-kim-jong-nam-was-attacked-cctv-footage/D4AAC6B7-60BE-4457-8B20-093F3F063197. Accessed 7 Mar. 2024.

The Seoul Times. https://theseoultimes.com/ST/?url=/ST/db/read.php?idx=3052. Accessed 7 Mar. 2024.

Watts, Jonathan, and John Gittings. "Little General Gets Marching Orders on Trip to Disneyland." The Guardian, 5 May 2001. The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/may/05/northkorea.