Kim Jong Nam murder: Malaysia identifies North Korean embassy official among suspects

Diplomatic tensions have been rising between North Korea and Malaysia over custody of the victim's body.

Kim Jong Nam murder: Malaysia identifies North Korean embassy official among suspects
A North Korean man (R) identified by the Malaysian police as Ri Jong Chol and suspected by the authorities to be in connection with the murder of Kim Jong Nam, is taken to a police station in Sepang, Malaysia Reuters

Malaysian police identified a senior North Korean embassy official on Wednesday as a suspect involved in the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The authorities said another suspect was a staffer with Air Koryo, the country's state airline.

Malaysia's Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said both the suspects are still in Malaysia and they have been called in for questioning. According to him, the North Korean diplomat held the rank of second secretary at the embassy.

"He's the second secretary of the embassy. ..they're not in custody, they've been called in for assistance," Khalid said in a news conference.

Khalid added that the police strongly believe that all the four suspects, who fled Malaysia on the day of the attack, had gone to the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.

Kim Jong Nam was allegedly killed by two women who splashed his face with a chemical at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 departure hall at about 9 am on Feb 13, when he was about to leave for Macau. According to Malaysian police, someone grabbed or held Jong Nam's face from behind, after which he felt dizzy and sought help at an information desk.

Last week, the police arrested a North Korean man and two women from Vietnam and Indonesia, who were involved in the murder. Khalid said the two women wiped a liquid, containing an as yet unidentified toxic substance, on Kim Jong Nam's face.

"Yes, the two female suspects knew that the substance they had were toxic. We don't know what kind of chemical was used," the police chief said.

He added: "They used their bare hands," he said, adding they were instructed to wash their hands afterwards."

The police will apply to extend the suspects remand in custody for the benefit of the investigation. Although there were rumours that Kim Jong Nam's son had arrived in Kuala Lumpur earlier this week, but no family member of the victim has come forward to claim the body or provide DNA samples yet.

"Those are all rumours," said Khalid adding that the body of the deceased will not go to the North Korean embassy if the family does not come forward.

Malaysian authorities have said that they will release the body only to the next-of-kin after the investigators confirm the cause of death and identity of the victim. However, North Korea has demanded it be handed over to its embassy directly.

Malaysia is one of the few countries in the world that maintains ties with the nuclear-armed nation. Ever since the killing, diplomatic tensions have been escalating between North Korea and Malaysia as the countries are tussling over custody of the victim's body.

North Korea has also been trading barbs over Malaysia's handling of the investigation. Malaysia recalled its ambassador from Pyongyang earlier this week as the North Korean ambassador in Kuala Lumpur cast doubt on the fairness of the ongoing probe.