Deported North Korean 'likely an arms dealer'

North Korean national Ri Jong Chol being escorted from the Sepang police headquarters in Selangor on March 3. He was deported that day after having been remanded for two weeks in connection with the murder of Mr Kim Jong Nam.
North Korean national Ri Jong Chol being escorted from the Sepang police headquarters in Selangor on March 3. He was deported that day after having been remanded for two weeks in connection with the murder of Mr Kim Jong Nam.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

KUALA LUMPUR • North Korean Ri Jong Chol, 47, was deported on March 3 as the Malaysian authorities had insufficient evidence to charge him in the Kim Jong Nam murder, but he was likely an arms dealer for his government.

According to a report by the United Nations Security Council, a similarly named and aged man had travelled to countries including Malaysia since 2012 as an operative of the Korea Mining Development Trading Corp (Komid), Pyongyang's main arms trader. Mr Ri was listed as chief of one of its overseas offices.

Malaysian police did not respond to requests by The Straits Times to confirm if the two Ri Jong Chols are one and the same.

The man they remanded for two weeks had been in Malaysia since 2013, said his work permit sponsor.

Tombo Enterprise owner Chong Ah Kow said he applied for the work visa to facilitate potential business deals, but Mr Ri was not salaried staff. The police said Mr Ri was in Malaysia as an IT worker under the healthcare products firm.

"I treated him as a businessman," said Mr Chong, adding that Mr Ri banked cash into his own account monthly. Mr Chong said he had met the North Korean only five times since 2013, to discuss possible deals, none of which materialised.

According to The Star newspaper, Mr Ri graduated in medical science at a North Korean university in 2000, and did research in India in 2010-11. The UN said he had visited Iran, Namibia, Uganda, China and the United Arab Emirates.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 20, 2017, with the headline 'Deported North Korean 'likely an arms dealer''. Print Edition | Subscribe