PETALING JAYA – It has been a month since the murder of Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, gripped the world, and there is no sign that the story, with its continuing saga of bizarre claims, diplomatic rift and an unclaimed body, will die down soon.
On Feb 13, Jong-nam, 45, was fatally poisoned by two women in broad daylight in KLIA2 as he was getting ready to fly home to Macau where he lived in exile with his family. The act was caught on CCTV and Jong-nam died within 20 minutes after the brazen attack.
When news of the assassination broke the next day, media outlets scrambled to dispatch teams to Putrajaya Hospital, where a stricken Jong-nam was due to be sent to before dying enroute from the low-cost carrier terminal.
Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar then identified the victim as one Kim Chol, based on the diplomatic passport that was on him.
As with many high-profile cases, the body was taken to the Hospital Kuala Lumpur mortuary for a post-mortem but under heavy police guard. The remains are still being kept pending identification by his next of kin.
The venue became a hotspot with local and international media staking out there in earnest daily to report on what is certainly one of the biggest stories of 2017.
Police arrests were swiftly made.
By Feb 16, Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, 28, and Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25, were caught. The women were charged with Jong-nam’s murder on March 1 in another headline-grabbing day of high police security, and bullet-proof vests were put on the two accused.
North Korean Ri Jong-chol was held on Feb 17, but released on March 3, after a lack of evidence prevented authorities from pressing charges. The 47-year-old chemist was deported the same day.
Despite the North Korean embassy insisting that the victim had died due to an apparent heart attack because of his health history, post-mortem results found that Jong-nam had been killed by the nerve agent VX, a chemical listed by the United Nations as a weapon of mass destruction.
Police identified more suspects, including the embassy’s second secretary, 44-year-old Hyon Kwang-song.
Diplomatic relations were severely tested when then-North Korean Ambassador to Malaysia Kang Chol questioned the validity of the police investigation as well as alleging a conspiracy orchestrated by North Korea’s enemies.
That set off a war of words between him and Wisma Putra, with Malaysia recalling its ambassador to North Korea, Mohamad Nizan Mohamad.
However, Kang Chol continued issuing statements that criticised Malaysia on its handling of the matter.
Malaysia responded by stopping visa-free travel for North Koreans to Malaysia, the only country that offered them the benefit.
The situation did not improve and ultimately led to Kang Chol being declared persona non grata by the Foreign Ministry on March 4. He left the country with his wife and their granddaughter on March 6.
In a tit-for-tat response, North Korea also expelled ambassador Mohamad Nizan.
Tensions escalated on March 7, with the hermit nation barring all 11 Malaysians there from leaving the country, effectively turning them into hostages.
Malaysia reacted by issuing a similar ban for the 315 North Koreans still in the country.
An emergency meeting of the National Security Council was chaired by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak as the Government looked into securing the safe release of its citizens.
Two of the 11 Malaysians – Stella Lim and Nyanaprakash Muniandy, working for the United Nations’ World Food Programme – were out of Pyongyang and reached Beijing on March 9.
They will continue their work from there.
On March 10, Khalid officially confirmed the identity of the deceased as Kim Jong-nam.