Malaysia has embalmed Mr Kim Jong Nam's body, as no next of kin has stepped forward to claim it a month after the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was murdered.
This was revealed by Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi yesterday, after the authorities said on Monday that they would wait up to three weeks before considering other options to resolve custody of the body.
"If it was kept in the mortuary, the body might decompose so we did this to preserve the body," Datuk Seri Zahid said when confirming reports that the body was briefly moved from the Kuala Lumpur Hospital morgue on Sunday.
On Monday, Health Minister Subramaniam Sathasivam said the ministry expected to hand over the body in "two to three weeks", while Mr Zahid, who is also Home Minister, said the government would have to consult the Attorney-General on legal provisions if no relatives claim Mr Kim's body.
Following the Feb 13 attack on Mr Kim at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, police had insisted on DNA samples from blood relatives to confirm Mr Kim's identity and release custody of his body, rebuffing claims by North Korean embassy officials for the remains to be handed to them.
If it was kept in the mortuary, the body might decompose so we did this to preserve the body.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER AHMAD ZAHID HAMIDI, confirming reports that the body was briefly moved from the Kuala Lumpur Hospital morgue on Sunday.
Police chief Khalid Abu Bakar officially confirmed last Friday that the dead man was Mr Kim Jong Nam. But Pyongyang rejected this claim yesterday, despite reports that its ally China assisted in identifying the victim.
North Korea's Permanent Representative to the United Nations Kim In Ryong also labelled as "absurd" claims that the VX nerve agent - considered one of the world's most lethal chemical weapons - was used, given that the two women charged with murdering Mr Kim by smearing his face with the poison were seemingly unaffected by it.
He told reporters the allegation that Pyongyang assassinated Mr Kim "is the product of reckless moves of the United States and South Korean authorities aimed to... tarnish the image of the dignified (North Korea)".
North Korea has also alleged that Malaysia is conspiring with its enemies in the murder investigation. It insists that the dead man is a North Korean citizen named Kim Chol, and that he died of a "heart stroke".
Malaysia's English daily The Star said yesterday that Beijing provided fingerprints to help identify Mr Kim's body. "More than 20 police personnel and officers from China have assisted in the process of identifying Jong Nam, as well as in other aspects," the newspaper quoted an unnamed source as saying.
This follows a Monday report by Japanese news agency Kyodo that Tokyo provided similar assistance.
Kuala Lumpur and Pyongyang are locked in a diplomatic row over the murder investigation, and have expelled each other's ambassadors.
Pyongyang also barred Malaysians from leaving North Korea last week. Kuala Lumpur has accused Pyongyang of effectively holding nine of its citizens hostage, and reciprocated with a travel ban on 315 North Koreans in Malaysia.