Despite a series of unresolved mysteries surrounding his assassination, the remains of Kim Jong-nam appear to be set for a cremation and return to the homeland he had been unable to visit for years.
Malaysian and Japanese news reports said Monday that the body of Kim, the estranged half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, was transferred to a crematorium outside Kuala Lumpur on Sunday, and the remains will be handed over to Pyongyang envoys who are visiting the country for secret talks with Malaysian authorities.
China Press, a Malaysian Chinese-language newspaper, said four police officers visited the North Korean Embassy for 2 1/2 hours on Sunday to question three suspects staying within the compound.
They are Hyon Kwang-song, a second secretary at the mission; Kim Uk-il, a Koryo Air employee; and Ri Ji-u, all of whom are suspected of having played a role in Kim's murder.
While at least five suspects had already fled or been deported to their home country, the North Korean authorities have been protecting the trio, refusing to co-operate with the probe.
Kim was killed last month shortly after VX nerve agent was smeared on his face at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Two women, each from Vietnam and Indonesia, have been arrested for carrying out the attack.
North Korea and Malaysia have been at loggerheads, as Pyongyang opposed Kim's autopsy and called for a handover of his body.
They have ousted each other's ambassadors and scrapped a visa-free travel accord. Pyongyang also barred Malaysians from leaving the country, prompting Kuala Lumpur to expel North Koreans from its soil.
With their ties quickly deteriorating, the two countries have been engaged in closed-door negotiations since early this month. North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Hui-chol and former Deputy Ambassador to the UN Ri Dong-il took part in a meeting Friday, according to Japanese broadcaster ANN.
Sunday's expected cremation is believed to be part of their settlement, along with the officers' visit.
For Malaysia, the case has been a domestic and international political burden, with nine of its nationals being locked in the communist state, while its investigation has hit a snag in the face of an uncooperative Pyongyang.
But the latest development stoked controversy as it will likely leave many questions unanswered over Kim's death.
Malaysian authorities have failed to confirm that North Korea was the mastermind behind the assassination, though they did present some evidence suggesting it.
Pyongyang argues he died from "natural causes," accusing Malaysia of manipulating the investigation.
The discussions are "ongoing" but a decision should be reached "very soon," Malaysian Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam was quoted by Malaysia's New Straits Times as saying early Monday, adding that the investigation will continue regardless of the agreement.