The playboy brother of Kim Jong-un reportedly made a desperate plea for his life to be spared following a failed assassination attempt five years ago.

In explosive claims released by South Korea's spy agency and passed to government officials, Kim Jong-nam asked his half-brother for an assassination order against him to be lifted.

Known as a playboy because of his vice for gambling, drinking and women, Kim Jong-nam reportedly had two wives, at least one mistress, and several children.

He died in Malaysia on Monday after apparently being targeted with a chemical spray in the airport at Selangor, near Kuala Lumpur.


Malaysian investigators are scouring surveillance video for clues as to what happened and have already made two arrests while the hunt for others suspected of being involved continues.

However it didn't take long for fingers to be pointed at North Korea.

While South Korea's National Intelligence Service (NIS) has a history of botching intelligence on its northern neighbour, it has long portrayed the country's leaders as mentally unstable.

As investigations into the murder continue, they claimed North Korea had been trying for years to kill Kim Jong-nam.

The NIS apparently told South Korean officials that Kim Jong-nam sent a letter in April 2012, after the assassination attempt, begging for the lives of himself and his family.

In the letter apparently written to Kim Jong-un, his older half-brother wrote: "I hope you cancel the order for the punishment of me and my family. We have nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. We are well aware that the only way to escape is suicide."

According to South Korean official Kim Byung-kee, the North Korean leader didn't like his brother.

"Kim Jong-un said: 'I just hate him. So get rid of him,'" he told reporters.

The NIS did not definitively say that North Korea was behind Monday's attack, just that it was presumed to be a North Korean operation, according to officials who briefed reporters about the closed-door meeting with the spy agency.

Kim Jong-nam's astonishing murder, which reportedly came at the hands of two female assassins, set off waves of speculation over whether North Korea had dispatched a hit squad to kill a man known for his playboy lifestyle, drinking, gambling and complicated family life.

Former leader Kim Jong-il had at least three sons with two women, as well as a daughter, Kim Yo-jong by a third.

Kim Jong-nam was the eldest, followed by Kim Jong-chul, who is a few years older than Kim Jong-un.

But his grandfather's disapproval over Kim Jong-nam's parents being unmarried meant he was largely hidden from the world in his early years.

He was sent abroad at a young age and returned to Pyongyang after his father became leader in 1994, with many assuming he was being groomed for the top job.

However things turned sour after he was caught trying to visit Japan on a fake passport in 2001, a move which brought great embarrassment to his father and ensured his exile.

He spent a lot of time in China and, according to the NIS, had wives and children in Beijing and Macau.

It wasn't just the Japan trip that caused resentment from Kim Jong-un. He had long had strained relations with his brother; charged with the crime of being born illegitimate, as well as growing up outside of North Korea.

CCTV footage shows a woman (centre, in white) at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, who police say was arrested in connection with the death of Kim Jong-nam. Photo / AP
CCTV footage shows a woman (centre, in white) at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, who police say was arrested in connection with the death of Kim Jong-nam. Photo / AP

And while they may have shared the same father, Kim Jong-il, the two were estranged, according to Reuters.

Kim Jong-nam was educated in Moscow and Switzerland and didn't even meet his grandfather, North Korea's founding President Kim Il-Sung, until he was five years old.
His birth was considered shameful because his father and actress mother, Song Hye-rim were not married.

Kim Jong-nam told Japanese journalist Yomi Gomi in 2010 how he didn't know his sibling ruler, revealing: "I'm his half brother, but I've never met him so I don't know."
He also predicted the fall of the regime and spoke of his disdain over its dynastic succession.

"I'm concerned how Jong-un, who merely resembles my grandfather, will be able to satisfy the needs of North Koreans," he told Gomi.

"Kim Jong-un is still just a nominal figure and the members of the power elite will be the ones in actual power. The dynastic succession is a joke to the outside world.

"The Kim Jong-un regime will not last long. Without reforms, North Korea will collapse, and when such changes take place, the regime will collapse."

Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean Studies at Dongguk University in South Korea, said Kim Jong-nam could have faced threats from any number of directions.

While he was probably not viewed as a direct threat to his half brother, he was regarded as "an obstacle to Kim Jong-un's plan to maintain the regime for the next 20 to 30 years, Prof Kim said.

"So there is a possibility of Kim Jong-un directly or indirectly giving orders to get rid of those who could threaten the plan in the long term," he said.

"The other possibility that cannot be ruled out is that of North Korean elites, who are competing against each other to show their loyalty to Kim Jong-un, making a move against Kim Jong-nam."