The mysterious murder


No peace for North Korea’s prodigal son


On 13 February 2017 Kim Jong Nam, the forty-four year old half-brother of the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was found dead at the Kuala Lumpur Air Port while he was waiting to board a flight to Macau, where he had been living in exile. It was reported that he was poisoned with an extraordinarily potent chemical weapon called VX – a banned, deadly nerve agent. He died within 15 minutes while en route to a hospital.

His murder raised many questions about the safety of the common man and the spread of highly deadly chemicals that could not be deducted by cameras, scanners, and machines installed at airports and similar check out walk through points.

North Korea made the case “simple” and resolved the puzzle: its news agency – KCNA – stated that “a citizen of the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea)” who was travelling on a diplomatic passport, had died due to a “heart stroke”. It further stated that the reports of a poisoning were false and that Malaysia was part of an “anti-DPRK conspiratorial racket launched by the South Korean authorities”.

North Korea has also said that Malaysia was responsible for the death of one of its citizens and is attempting to politicise the return of his body. This marked the duplicity of the North Korean stance on the issue – If Nam died of a heart-stroke, then why was Malaysia held responsible? North Korea objected to the autopsy and post-mortem of the body carried out by the Malaysian authorities on the grounds that the practice was against the Vienna Convention, because Nam was carrying a diplomatic passport. North Korea termed it against international law and human rights and called it politicising the matter, also disputing with the Malaysian version of poison.

Malaysian and Western media, on the other hand, have reported that there were six North Korean agents who did the job. Four of them immediately flew out of Kuala Lumpur (using a complicated route, avoiding China), to reach Pyongyang. A diplomat at the DPRK embassy and Air Koryo, the DPRK airline, were also interrogated by Malaysian authorities. They also arrested a Malaysian male and an Indonesian female travelling on a Vietnamese passport. The Indonesian women admitted to Malaysian police that she was given money to smear Nam’s face.

In a statement, North Korea’s Embassy in Kuala Lampur said that the fact that the substance was on the hands of the women proved that it could not have been a poison and called for the immediate release of the “innocent females” and a North Korean man. Later on, North Korea also accused the United States and South Korea of the murder. True or not, it has been learnt from several sources that North Korea has a huge pile of deadly chemicals. The terrorists could have gained access to them as the regime could sell them, or could facilitate terrorists across the world attempting to destabilise a number of regimes.

It looked as if the Embassy was investigating the case in the stead of the Malaysian police. Malaysian authorities kept the results of the autopsy unpublicised. The body has not yet been transferred to North Korea.

Apart from this alarming speculation, new and discomforting diplomatic relations between Malaysia and North Korea are developing. The latter is accusing the former of killing Nam. Each government lacks confidence in the other and won’t trust the other to solve the mystery. Malaysia has also – unilaterally – terminated free visa entry for North Korean nationals and is recalling its ambassador from Pyongyang.

Kim Jong Nam was considered a potential successor as his father Kim Jong Il groomed him as next leader. He studied in Russia and Switzerland and spoke fluent in English and French. He lived mostly abroad and travelled. He lived in Macau, China, and Singapore. He was critical of the DPRK’s policies and supported reforms and the end of the Communist dynasty. He was disinterested in politics. It was learnt from many sources that the DPRK spy agency was after him for quite some time. China supported him during his exile.

Interestingly, while Malaysian authorities confirmed that man who was assassinated was Kim Jong Nam alias Kim Chol, North Korea has not yet confirmed the name of its assassinated citizen.

The mysterious murder of Nam has given rise to more questions than answers. The episode further isolated and alienated North Korea within the Asia-Pacific, damaging its image and ties. It is also vital to find out if the deadly compound was possessed by North Korea, South Korea, Malaysia, the United States, or someone else. Global research agencies specialising in deadly compounds should immediately investigate the matter.