The strange saga of Kim Jong-nam’s death in Malaysia continues to unfold. The two women who allegedly exposed him to lethal VX nerve agent are charged with murder, and a North Korean held in the case is released and deported. The North Korean government, which is seeking to claim Kim’s remains, is asserting that he died of a heart attack.
Siti Aisyah and Doan Thi Huong of Indonesia and Vietnam, respectively, were charged with murder on Wednesday for their role in Kim’s death. They could face death by hanging if found guilty.
Both women have claimed to officials from their home countries that they were duped into assaulting Kim at the Kuala Lumpur airport and thought they were conducting a harmless prank for a TV show. “I do not admit this. I am not guilty of this,” said Aisyah through an interpreter as she was brought to the dock in handcuffs.
Meanwhile, the North Korean man held in connection with Kim’s death, Ri Jong-chol, was set to be released on Friday because there is “insufficient evidence to charge him,” according to Malaysian Attorney General Apandi Ali.
According to the Straits Times, police sources said Ri was arrested after they traced the license plate number of the car carrying several other North Korean suspects from the murder. The suspects were spotted in the car by security cameras.
Ri has reportedly insisted he does not know either the four key suspects from North Korea or the two women charged with Kim’s murder, and his car was “missing” at the time it was caught on CCTV. The car was still missing as of Friday morning, according to the police.
The BBC reports Ri will be deported after he is released, and Malaysia will end visa-free travel for North Koreans for “security reasons,” effective March 6. Ri Jong-chol was in Malaysia on a work permit that expired on February 6 and lacks any other valid travel documents.
An official North Korean delegation has arrived in Malaysia to claim Kim Jong-nam’s body, autopsied by Malaysian officials despite their requests. The Malaysians said they found traces of VX nerve agent, a weapon of mass destruction, in Kim’s eyes.
However, North Korean spokesman Ri Tong-il claimed Kim had “a record of heart disease” and diabetes, for which he was taking medication.
“Therefore this is a strong indication that the cause of the death is a heart attack,” the spokesman said, as quoted by NBC News.
He also challenged the claim that VX was the murder weapon by asking why the women who applied the substance to Kim’s face did not get sick. (Among the theories advanced to explain this is the suggestion that it was a binary form of VX liquid, relatively harmless to either woman but deadly when mixed and introduced to Kim’s eyes.)
Ri called for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to examine the samples Malaysian examiners collected from Kim and “identify who is the one who made it, who is the one who brought it into Malaysia, who is the one who passed on this material to the two ladies.”
South Korea’s government has called for North Korea to be punished for using a chemical weapon to kill Kim.
“Many international media pointed out that North Korea’s use of chemical weapons for the targeted killing in a third country sent a very clear message to the world – Namely this impulsive, unpredictable, trigger-happy and brutal regime is ready and willing to strike anyone, anytime, anywhere,” South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se told the U.N.-backed Conference on Disarmament in Geneva on Tuesday, as reported by Reuters.
Yun called for the United Nations and signatories to the Chemical Weapons Convention to treat Kim’s killing as a “high priority agenda” item and consider suspending North Korea from the U.N. if an investigation proves they used a chemical weapon to assassinate the half-brother of their dictator Kim Jong-un.
North Korean diplomat Ju Yong-choi told the meeting in Geneva that South Korea’s comments were “despicable, irresponsible, impertinent, and illogical.”