Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Feb 28 – Two women arrested for the nerve agent assassination of Kim Jong-Nam are to be charged with his murder, Malaysia said Tuesday, as North Korea sent a senior diplomat to seek the return of the body.
The spectacular killing of Kim Jong-Un’s half-brother with VX, a fast-acting poison developed for warfare, sparked an international probe and lurid stories of Pyongyang’s Cold War-style tradecraft.
South Korea says its isolated neighbour was behind the assassination and claims the North’s agents engaged two outsiders to carry out the murder.
“They will be charged in court under Section 302 (murder) of the penal code,” Attorney General Mohamed Apandi Ali told AFP by text message, referring to the two suspects.
The women, from Indonesia and Vietnam, will appear in court on Wednesday. If convicted, they could face death by hanging.
Kim, a well-travelled polyglot who fell out of favour at home after a botched 2001 attempt to get into Japan on a false passport, died less than 20 minutes after he was set upon at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on February 13.
CCTV footage shows two women approaching him and seemingly pushing something in his face.
Investigators say this was VX, a deadly poison classed as a weapon of mass destruction and banned around the world.
Both women have claimed they thought they were taking part in a practical joke.
Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25, reportedly told a senior diplomat Saturday she had been paid just 400 ringgit ($90) for her role, adding she believed she was handling a liquid like “baby oil”.
Her alleged accomplice, Doan Thi Huong, 28, from Vietnam, told Hanoi officials she had been tricked into killing Kim and thought she was taking part in a prank for a comedy video.
Speaking from the Vietnamese village of Quan Phuong, Huong’s stepmother appealed for a fair trial.
“I think she was set up.” Nguyen Thi Vy told AFP. “I don’t believe she was brave enough to do such a thing.”
A third suspect, 46-year-old North Korean man Ri Jong-Chol, is also being held.
Apandi said whether Ri was charged in the coming days “depends on the outcome of the police investigation, which is still ongoing.”
– Row over corpse –
North Korea has not acknowledged the identity of the dead man but has insisted Malaysia hand over the corpse, and says it does not accept the findings of an autopsy.
Pyongyang has repeatedly lashed out at Kuala Lumpur over the investigation into the killing, claiming the Malaysians are playing politics.
Veteran North Korean diplomat Ri Tong-Il, deputy envoy to the United Nations, told reporters outside the embassy he was there to discuss “the question of the return of the body of the deceased DPRK (North Korean) citizen”.
He added the North Korean delegation would also raise “the question of the release of the DPRK citizen arrested by Malaysian police”.
Malaysia has refused to release the body, with police saying they are waiting for next-of-kin to come forward to identify the remains and provide a DNA sample.
Health Minister S. Subramaniam Tuesday brushed off suggestions the body would be handed over.
“We need to have the definite identity of the person,” he said. “And the body will be given to the next of kin.”
South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se called Tuesday for North Korea to be suspended from the UN’s Conference on Disarmament if Malaysia found conclusive proof it was behind the poisoning.
It should also face suspension of its rights and privileges as a UN member, he told the conference in Geneva.
“Serial rule-breakers should not be granted a seat in this august rule-making body,” Yun said of the Conference on Disarmament, adding that “the Doomsday clock must be stopped now”.
Malaysia’s previously warm relations with North Korea have worsened sharply since the killing, with Kuala Lumpur warning Pyongyang’s outspoken ambassador on Friday he would be thrown out of the country if he continues to “spew lies” over the police investigation.
Earlier Tuesday Malaysia said it was shutting down firms linked to a North Korean front company which the UN says was selling military equipment.
International Global System and International Golden Services have been connected to a firm called Glocom, which a United Nations’ report said was based in Malaysia and operated by Pyongyang’s intelligence agency.
The UN report said Glocom was selling North Korean-made military communications equipment to Eritrea, with suppliers in China and an office in Singapore.