PETALING JAYA – Forensic pathologists suspect that ricin may be involved when a political dissident is fatally poisoned.
On Monday, Kim Jong-nam was believed to have been poisoned just before he was to take a flight to Macau. He died shortly after that and his death raised some puzzling questions.
University Malaya Medical Centre pathology department head Prof Dr K. Nadesan said with ricin, it usually takes one to three days before death occurs.
“The alleged poisoning is quite puzzling in this case because only cyanide can cause such a rapid death, but for cyanide poisoning to happen, it has to be ingested,” he said.
In Jong-nam’s case, local reports said that two women were believed to be involved in splashing his face with liquid poison but some foreign reports had said that he was injected.
Dr Nadesan said his comment was hypothetical and the person who could answer this is the forensic pathologist investigating the case.
He said the pathologist would have to find out whether Jong-nam was really poisoned or had died of a natural cause.
Asked if there are poisons that cannot be detected, Dr Nadesan said most poisons can be detected but the pathologist investigating the case must be sharp.
He said that one of the well-known ricin poisoning cases was the death of Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov who sought political asylum in Britain.
According to a BBC report, Markov was on his way to work at the BBC in September 1978, when he was jabbed at the back of his leg by a mysterious man wielding an umbrella.
It was later found that a small metal ball less than 2mm was shot into his leg.
The ball had holes which contained ricin, a highly toxic protein produced in the seeds of the castor oil plant Ricinus communis and could kill even in tiny amounts.
Markov became seriously unwell and was admitted to hospital, where he told staff he was convinced he was poisoned by the KGB. He died of severe infection-like condition four days later at the age of 49.
“Ricin was used on political dissidents in the communist blocks and there was no antidote.
“Ricin, a super poison, is a possibility that one should suspect in political assassinations provided that there is some kind of wounding for it to be injected into the body prior to the development of symptoms,” Dr Nadesan told The Star yesterday.