Malaysian authorities have deported the only North Korean detained over the killing of Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un, and issued an arrest warrant for another whose whereabouts are unknown.
Ri Jong-chol, who had been held since February 17, was released because of a lack of evidence to charge him.
He was then handed over to immigration officials for deportation, because he did not have valid travel documents, Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said.
Speaking in Beijing en route to North Korea, Mr Ri told journalists he was not at Kuala Lumpur airport on the day of the killing, and knew nothing about the accusation his car was used in the case.
Mr Ri told reporters that he was presented with false evidence in Malaysia, and police showed him pictures of his family in detention.
“I realised that this is a conspiracy plot to try to damage the status and honour of the republic,” he said.
South Korean intelligence and US officials say the murder was an assassination organised by North Korean agents.
Police never said what they believed Mr Ri’s role was in the attack at Kuala Lumpur’s airport.
Malaysia is looking for seven other North Korean suspects, four of whom are believed to have left the country on February 13, the day Mr Kim died.
Two others — one Indonesian woman and one Vietnamese woman — remain in custody, accused of smearing Kim’s face with VX, a banned nerve agent considered a weapon of mass destruction.
Police said three other North Korean suspects, including an official at the North Korean Embassy and an employee of Air Koryo, North Korea’s national carrier, are believed to still be in the country.
National police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said an arrest warrant was issued on Friday for the Air Koryo employee, Kim Uk-il.
Police said he arrived in Malaysia on January 29, about two weeks before Mr Kim was killed.
What is VX gas?
- A highly toxic and rapidly acting chemical warfare agent developed in the UK in the 1950s
- The most potent of all nerve agents, it is much more potent than the well-known sarin but works in a similar way
- Symptoms appear within seconds of exposure to the vapour or after exposure to the liquid form
- A large dose of VX may result in convulsions, loss of consciousness, paralysis and respiratory failure possibly leading to death
- It is possible that any visible VX liquid contact on the skin, unless washed off immediately, would be lethal
- Only one person has ever been officially confirmed as having died from VX. If confirmed, Jong-nam would be the second
*Source: Centres for Disease Control and Prevention
Malaysian authorities have not said why they want to arrest Kim Uk-il.
Kim Jong-nam’s death has unleashed a diplomatic battle between Malaysia and North Korea, with Malaysia announcing on Thursday it was scrapping visa-free entry for North Koreans.
Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry ramped up the pressure on Friday, saying it was “greatly concerned” about the use of the nerve agent.
“Its use at a public place could have endangered the general public,” the ministry said in a statement.
Malaysia has not directly accused North Korea of being behind the killing, but the statement came hours after a North Korean envoy rejected a Malaysian autopsy finding VX killed Mr Kim, saying the man probably died of a heart attack because he suffered from heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.