Malaysia releases N. Korean held over Kim Jong-nam murder due to lack of evidence

Ri Jong Chol has been taken to the immigration office to be prepared for deportation to North Korea.

Kim Jong Nam murder probe: Malaysia releases N. Korean held in deadly chemical attack
North Korean suspect in Kim Jong Nam murder, Ri Jong Chol, leaves a Sepang police station to be deported, in Malaysia March 3, 2017. Reuters

Malaysian police have released the North Korean suspect held over the killing of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of the North's leader Kim Jong-un, from a detention centre on Friday due to insufficient evidence. The suspect, identified as Ri Jong Chol, has reportedly been taken to the immigration office to be prepared for deportation to North Korea.

The announcement came the day after two young women appeared in court charged with murdering Kim Jong Nam with a banned nerve agent. Ri was held in police detention for almost two weeks following the murder of Kim at Kuala Lumpur airport on 13 February.

"He is a free man. His remand expires and there is insufficient evidence to charge him," Attorney general Mohamed Apandi Ali told the Borneo Post.

According to reports, the Malaysian authorities have identified seven other North Koreans in connection with the killing, including a diplomat and an airline employee who are believed to be in Malaysia. Four others are thought to have fled to Pyongyang on the day of the murder.

Meanwhile, South Korea has consistently blamed North Korea for the assassination, citing what they say was a standing order from Kim Jong-Un to kill his half-brother, who lived in exile. However, Pyongyang that has never acknowledged Kim's identity has denied the charge and disputes the autopsy. It also claimed that Malaysia is in cahoots with its enemies.

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 as the North Korean ambassador in Kuala Lumpur cast doubt on the fairness of the ongoing probe.