26.07.2017 Author: Konstantin Asmolov

News of the Investigation into the Murder of Kim Jong-nam

56234234234Not so long ago, we looked into the high-profile story of the assassination attempt on the leader of the DPRK. Now, however, we will return our focus to the case of the attempt on the other Kim. The news surrounding the investigation is indeed interesting.

The actual investigation has been going on since May 30, 2017, with the hearings being held at the Supreme Court because the lower courts do not have the right to try homicide cases. The media has still not been given the go-ahead to publish any details. We are therefore left with no choice but use non-official sources to find out exactly what is happening.

As of now, only two of the murder suspects have been detained (a 25-year-old Indonesian citizen Siti Aisyah and a 28-year-old Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong), whose defense has been chosen a very obvious and typical tactic. According to them, the girls were victims of deception and provocation, and sincerely thought they were participating in a prank. All blame has been placed on the “mysterious North Koreans”, who are not present to defend themselves. North Koreans are once more assigned their all-too-familiar role of the Bogeyman

The positions that the lawyers are taking can be understood, since, if found guilty, their defendants are awaiting the death penalty by hanging. In fact, Siti Aisyah has even written her family a letter saying that everything was under control, that they should not worry, and she was fine. She assured them that she had many people on her side helping her, including the Embassy.

However, all is not as rosy as it sounds. There are indeed reports that the investigation requested evidence to prove that the girls had practiced the prank in the halls of the airport several times prior to the incident. And it seems that no such records have been retrieved yet. In theory, however, these records could reflect not only the preparation and processing of the operation, but also those who acted as its directors. In this case, their images could be compared to portraits of North Korean citizens whom the enemies of Pyongyang believe are the organizers and perpetrators of the assassination. However, as counsel for the Indonesian party Gooi Soong Seng stated, “The investigation has so far failed to provide documents critical to the defence“, and it is not known whether the records were actually seized by the police or someone else.

The situation with what the deceased was poisoned with is not clear. There has been evidence of the use of VX. The OPCW has never submitted, and moreover, Mr. Gooi stated that he was seeking the assistance of foreign experts in order to gain access to evidence concerning the use of the alleged VX murder weapon. He said that some of the documents and materials would be sent to Denmark or other countries to confirm that VX was used for the murder. This is a pretty important point, because earlier, after the investigation had declared the type of poison used, this was not questioned, although the author’s respondents immediately said that it could be a VX-based poison, not a classical weapon of mass destruction that would have killed more than one victim.

It is also known that the DPRK embassy hired lawyer Dzhagit Singh, known, by the way, for his protection of some local criminals. At the briefing, he stated that he had worked with Northerners since March 2, 2017, and had helped three suspects return home. This mediation did not dovetail with the South Korean narrative of the hostages.

It has also been confirmed that the deceased had a diplomatic passport in the name of a citizen of the DPRK Kim Chol, which is very important: if the brother of the North Korean leader were “the most high-ranking dissident”, he would not have kept his diplomatic passport. Coupled with that, four large bundles of USD100 dollar bills were found in his luggage, totaling USD120,000, which Kim was not going to declare using his diplomatic immunity.

The origin of this money was the cause for a sensational article published in the Japanese newspaper the Asahi Shimbun. Referring to sources in the investigative bodies of Malaysia, the Asahi alleges that four days prior to his death, he met a man who was considered an agent of the CIA, and the 120 thousand dollars were probably paid for some of the information transmitted, for which he was killed.

The chronology of events looks like this. On February 6, Kim arrived in Kuala Lumpur from Macau, alone and carrying one bag. This was recorded by surveillance cameras. On February 8, Kim departed for the resort island of Langkawi, not telling anyone about it (thus elegantly clearing up the question of who else was contacted by the deceased before the incident).

On February 9, the hotel cameras recorded him meeting with an American of Korean origin living in Bangkok. The Asahi claims that this person (a) arrived in Malaysia on the same day as Kim; (b) met with Kim and earlier; () “has links” with the CIA (the wording is very broad and may not refer to the agent itself); (d) left the country on the same day as Kim. Two people talked for about an hour, and an analysis of Kim’s computer revealed that a flash drive was inserted into it, from which the journalists concluded that there was information on it that he could not communicate orally.

The investigation into the assassination of Kim Jong-nam has revealed the extent to which Malaysia was a transit point for North Korean exports, including the military. The biggest scandal involved the Glocom Company, which sold communications equipment for “military and paramilitary” organizations. According to Reuters, with reference to a report submitted by the UN Security Council, there is no company in Malaysia under this name. However, two Malaysian firms controlled by the DPRK investors apparently registered at the Glocom website in 2009. Reuters claims that North Korea bought cheap electronics in Hong Kong and then converted them into military radio stations that were sold to developing countries for USD 8,000 per piece; that the firm behind this is Pan Systems Pyongyang, which is managed by the intelligence structures of North Korea and runs a network of front companies and agents in Malaysia, Singapore and China. As a result, two firms associated with the Glocom Company were subsequently closed.

Another prominent story is related to the acquisition by Australia of a series of border patrol boats, which were also formally Malayan: however, an open source study revealed that Kay Marine Sdn Bhd traded North Korean warships, selling both border guard boats and mini-submarines.

In this context, the money found among Kim’s items could well have been black cash for the grey activities of North Korean companies, and the deceased’s trips to Malaysia could have been associated with the inspection of the business.

That is why one of the murder-related hypotheses is that its purpose was to open up and close down this source of foreign exchange earnings that is so important for the DPRK. And while we do not know the details of Kim Jong-nam’s trip, the other version is actually equivocate. Why would it not be imagined that the CIA (if the deceased did communicate with its representatives) demanded some information from Kim, and then proceeded to kill him when he refused to hand it over?

In the meantime, one can draw attention to the fact that the attempt to portray the murder at the airport as a WMD terrorist attack and an excuse to bring the North on the list of countries sponsoring terrorism has failed. Despite increasing calls in the US Congress to include the North in the above blacklist, the 2016 Report on International Terrorism published Wednesday by the US State Department includes Iran, the Sudan and Syria, but not the DPRK. Apparently, even for American officials, often referring to dubious sources, the South Korean “evidence” was insufficient.

Konstantin Asmolov, Ph.D. (History), leading researcher at the Center for Korean Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.