SEOUL/KUALA LUMPUR – Mr Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korea’s leader, was killed by poison at Kuala Lumpur’s airport on Monday (Feb 13), according to South Korean news reports citing government sources.
Two unidentified women believed to be North Korean agents attacked Mr Kim with poisoned needles before fleeing in a taxi, South Korean cable channel TV Chosun reported, citing a government source.
Mr Kim was waiting at the airport’s Terminal 2 to board a flight to Macau, according to Malaysian police.
A police report obtained by The Straits Times showed that a Korean man accompanied by an airport staff member approached a police officer at about 9am, saying that he was attacked with a dangerous liquid by two unknown women.
The police have identified the man as Kim Chol, 46, from Pyongyang, based on his passport. A police statement said he sought medical aid at the airport’s customer service and died en route to hospital.
“An investigation is in progress and a post-mortem examination request has been made, to ascertain the cause of death,” Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said.
According to a Bernama report late on Tuesday (Feb 14), the Malaysian police confirmed that the victim was Kim Jong Nam.
Selangor CID chief SAC Fadzil Ahmat said the police received a call stating the body of the North Korean was sent to the Putrajaya Hospital from KLIA, Bernama said.
"Initial police investigations found the man was at KLIA at 8am to take a flight to Macau in China scheduled at 9am yesterday.
"While waiting for the flight, a woman came from behind and covered his face with a cloth laced with a liquid,” he added.
“Following this, the man was seen struggling for help and managed to obtain the assistance of a KLIA receptionist as his eyes suffered burns as a result of the liquid.
“Moments later, he was sent to the Putrajaya Hospital where he was confirmed dead,” said Fadzil.
He said the case was classified as sudden death pending the post-mortem report on the cause of death.
South Korea’s presidential Blue House, as well as the Unification Ministry, said they have “nothing to confirm” regarding the news reports.
Mr Kim Jong Nam, 45, often pictured wearing a cap, was the eldest son of late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and was once groomed to be his successor. But he fell out of favour and was exiled to Macau after he was arrested in Tokyo in 2001 for entering Japan on a fake passport.
Jong Un, his younger brother from another mother, was named the new leader after their father died in late 2011.
If confirmed, Mr Kim’s death would be the most high-profile one since the execution of his uncle Jang Song Thaek in December 2013. The two are said to have been close.
In January 2012, Mr Kim reportedly fled Macau out of fear of his life, as his home was exposed to North Korean agents and the media.
South Korea’s mainstream newspaper Chosun Ilbo said he later settled down in Singapore, choosing the island state for ease of travel to Europe, where his son Han Sol was studying. Other reports said Mr Kim lived in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, and that he had lovers in Singapore and Malaysia.
Mr Kim was known to lead a life of luxury outside his country. He was known to frequent five-star hotels and expensive restaurants. There were rumours he was protected by China, which was grooming him to take over if the Kim Jong Un regime were to collapse.
There was a previous attempt to kidnap Mr Kim. In 2010, a North Korean agent was sent to China to bring him back to North Korea. The agent was caught by South Korean authorities in 2012 and was cited as saying that an assassination would have been too blatant.
Observers say Mr Kim’s death would allow his brother to tighten his grip on power. South Korean media said the incident demonstrates “just how brutal” Mr Kim Jong Un is.