Frustrated Malaysian police release North Korean suspect

Kuala Lumpur - The only North Korean arrested over the assassination of Kim Jong Nam was released Friday, with frustrated Malaysian police saying they believed he was involved in the plot but lacked evidence to prove it.

Kim Jong-namPhoto: Reuters

Ri Jong-Chol is among eight North Koreans suspected of involvement in the dramatic killing of Kim, the half-brother of the reclusive nation's leader, who was poisoned with a banned nerve agent at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

Ri Jong-CholPhoto: Reuters

Malaysia's attorney general has announced there was insufficient evidence to charge 47-year-old Ri and that he would be deported on Friday.

As he was led out of a police station outside the capital under tight security and handed over to immigration authorities, police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said he regretted the release.

"We believe that Ri Jong Chol played a part in Kim Chol's murder but unfortunately we lack evidence to charge him," he told AFP, using the name given in the passport carried by Kim Jong-Nam.

"We are frustrated because of a lack of evidence," he said via text message from Saudi Arabia where he is on a religious pilgrimage.

However, he denied political or diplomatic pressure had been a factor in the release, saying it was purely an investigative issue.

A senior police official who asked not to be named told AFP that Ri had been handed over to immigration authorities in the administrative capital of Putrajaya.

"I do not know when he will be deported as they will need to sort out the travel documents," he said.

The vehicle carrying Ri, who wore a bullet proof vest, was escorted by a six police-car convoy and motorcycle outriders. Roads were sealed off as the motorcade left the police station where he has been held.

Ri's release came two days after two women -- one Vietnamese and one Indonesian -- were charged with murdering Kim.

Seven other North Koreans are wanted 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.

Half-brother of N Korean leader assassinated in Malaysia

  • Doan Thi Huong, 28, from Vietnam, was surrounded by a heavy police presence as they were charged in a Kuala Lumpur court over the killing.
  • Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25, was surrounded by a heavy police presence as they were charged in a Kuala Lumpur court over the killing.
  • Huong, also dressed casually, then heard the charge in Vietnamese.
  • Siti, wearing a red T-shirt, was brought in first to hear the murder charge read out before being taken away.
  • The handcuffed women were both told they faced the death penalty if found guilty.
  • Neither woman was asked to enter a plea and their trial is not expected to begin for several months.
  • Four suspects in the Kim Jong Nam murder: Malaysian Muhammad Farid Bin Jalaluddin (top L), Doan Thi Huong (top R) of Vietnam, North Korean Ri Jong Chol (bottom L) and Siti Aisyah of Indonesia (bottom R).
  • : A still image from a footage broadcast by Chinese state media which they say is believed to show the second woman (wearing yellow top) suspected of involvement in the apparent assassination of Kim Jong Nam.
  • Mystery woman: A CCTV screen grab showing a woman outside what looked like the airport, was circulated briefly after news broke last night that the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had been killed in Malaysia. The picture fits the description of one of the two women believed to be North Korean spies, who had poisoned Kim Jong-nam during a brazen attack at KLIA2.
  • CCTV cameras at KLIA2 have captured a clearer image of a woman believed to be one of the assassins who killed Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
  • The image zooms in on the alleged killer's features, depicting her to be middle-aged and of Asian descent.
  • In the grainy image, she can be seen wearing a top with the word "LOL" in large letters and a blue short skirt, with her right hand over a small sling handbag.
  • North Korea embassy officials leave the morgue at Kuala Lumpur General Hospital where Kim Jong Nam's body is held for autopsy in Malaysia.
  • Jong-nam, 45, died after he was attacked at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (KLIA2) on Monday.
  • He is believed to have been attacked by two female agents who splashed his face with a chemical at the airport's departure hall at about 9am on Monday.
  • A statement confirming the death from the Royal Malaysia Police force.
  • Three cars belonging to the North Korean embassy were seen in the compound of the mortuary at Kuala Lumpur Hospital (HKL). At least two of the cars were parked inside the compound while the third was seen parked outside with a police patrol car parked behind it. The cars had diplomatic number plates, one of which was 28-35-DC.
  • Occupants of the cars were at the mortuary where a post-mortem on the body of Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, was being carried out.
  • North Korean female agents operating in Malaysia have reportedly assassinated the half-brother of the North's leader, Kim Jong-Un - a one-time heir apparent who became a critic of the Stalinist regime.
  • South Korean media said Tuesday that Kim Jong-Nam was killed with poisoned needles at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Officials in Seoul and the Malaysian capital could not confirm his death.
  • Malaysian police said in a statement late Tuesday that a North Korean man, identified as Kim Chol, sought medical assistance at the airport and died on the way to hospital.
  • South Korean media said Jong-Nam had travelled using a fake passport under the name of Kim Chol.
  • If confirmed, it would be the highest-profile death under the Jong-Un regime since the execution of the leader's uncle, Jang Song-Thaek, in December 2013.
  • Jong-Un has been trying to strengthen his grip on power in the face of growing international pressure over his country's nuclear and missile programmes. He has reportedly staged a series of executions. The latest launch of a new intermediate-range missile on Sunday brought UN Security Council condemnation and vows of a strong response from US President Donald Trump.
  • South Korea's national news agency Yonhap quoted a source as saying agents of the North's spy agency, the Reconnaissance General Bureau, carried out the assassination on Monday by taking advantage of a security loophole between Jong-Nam's bodyguards and Malaysian police at the airport.
  • Malaysian private security guards stand guard outside the Forensics department at Putrajaya Hospital in Putrajaya on February 14, 2017, where the body of a North Korean man suspected to be Kim Jong-Nam, half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un is believed to be kept.
  • The 45-year-old was killed by two unidentified females wielding poisoned needles at the airport, according to South Korean broadcaster TV Chosun.
  • It said the women hailed a cab and fled immediately afterwards. Jong-Nam, the eldest son of former leader Kim Jong-Il, was once seen as heir apparent but fell out of favour following an embarrassing botched attempt in 2001 to enter Japan on a forged passport and visit Disneyland. He has since lived in virtual exile, mainly in the Chinese territory of Macau.
  • A pedestrian walks in front of a clinic where a North Korean man suspected to be Kim Jong-Nam, half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un is believed had been taken at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (KLIA 2) in Sepang, outside Kuala Lumpur on February 14, 2017.
  • His half-brother took over as leader when their father died in December 2011. Jong-Nam, known as an advocate of reform in the North, once told a Japanese newspaper that he opposed his country's dynastic system of power.
  • He was reportedly close to his uncle Song-Thaek, once the North's unofficial number two and political mentor of the current leader. Cheong Seong-Jang, senior researcher at Seoul's Sejong Institute think-tank, said Jong-Nam had been living in near-exile so it was unlikely that Jong-Un saw him as a potential competitor for power.
  • Policemen stand outside the morgue at Putrajaya hospital in Malaysia February 15, 2017.
  • In 2014, Jong-Nam was reported to be in Indonesia - sighted at an Italian restaurant in Jakarta - and was said to be shuttling back and forth between Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and France.
  • N Korean officials scuffle with media outside the KL hospital.
  • N Korean officials speaking to Malaysian authorities.
  • The Korean restaurant along Tanjong Pagar road where Kim Jong Nam was said to have dined in when he was spotted in Singapore in 2014.

Ri was arrested days after Kim suffered an agonising death when he was attacked as he waited to board a flight to Macau.

CCTV footage shows two women approaching the heavyset 45-year-old and apparently smearing his face with a cloth.

Police say he suffered a seizure and died less than 20 minutes later. Swabs of the dead man's face revealed traces of VX, a synthetic chemical so deadly that it is classed as a weapon of mass destruction.

Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25, and Doan Thi Huong, 28, from Vietnam, face the death penalty if found guilty. Both women say they thought they were merely taking part in a prank video.

South Korea has pointed the finger of blame at North Korea, citing what they say was a standing order from leader Kim Jong-Un to kill his exiled half-brother who may have been seen as a potential rival.

North Korea, which has not acknowledged the dead man's identity, has vehemently protested the investigation, saying Malaysia is in cahoots with its enemies.

In response, Malaysia has cancelled a visa-free travel deal with North Korea -- a key conduit to the outside world -- and recalled its envoy to Pyongyang.

On Thursday a senior North Korean diplomat leading a delegation to Kuala Lumpur reiterated Pyongyang's assertion that Kim had died of a heart attack, dismissing the use of a toxin, and urged Malaysia to release his body.

Police chief Khalid quashed the claims.

"Our investigations supported by expert reports confirmed that Kim was murdered. North Korea can say what they like but the facts remain," he told national news agency Bernama.

Malaysia on Friday also stepped up its criticism of the use of the banned nerve agent, condemning "the use of such a chemical weapon by anyone, anywhere and under any circumstances".

"Its use at a public place could have endangered the general public," the foreign ministry said, adding that the Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was helping it investigate.

Photo: Asia One

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