SEPANG - The body of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, has been released to be returned to North Korea following a request from his family, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said on Thursday (March 30).
Meanwhile, the nine Malaysians who had been prevented from leaving North Korea following the diplomatic row between the two countries over Mr Kim Jong Nam's murder, will return to Malaysia on Friday, Datuk Seri Najib said in a statement.
Mr Najib said the nine Malaysians took off from Pyongyang on Thursday at 7.45pm and will land in Kuala Lumpur on Friday at around 5am.
"In addition, following the completion of the autopsy on the deceased and receipt of a letter from his family requesting the remains be returned to North Korea, the coroner has approved the release of the body," Mr Najib added.
Malaysia had been waiting for more than a month for Mr Kim’s next-of-kin to come forward and claim the body.
Malaysia and North Korea were in a heated row following Mr Kim’s murder at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 on Feb 13.
Speculation had been mounting in recent days about Malaysia reaching a deal with North Korea that would see Mr Kim's body being sent to China on its way to Pyongyang in exchange for the nine Malaysians.
Malaysia has said an autopsy showed that Mr Kim was killed after he was exposed to the lethal nerve agent VX in Kuala Lumpur Airport 2 just as he was about to board a flight to Macau.
North Korea had dismissed the Malaysian findings, accusing Malaysia of conspiring to tarnish its image. It insists that the dead man was a citizen travelling on a diplomatic passport by the name of Kim Chol, and that the cause of death was a “heart stroke”.
The diplomatic row between the two countries has seen their ambassadors being recalled, Malaysians barred from leaving North Korea and a similar ban imposed on North Koreans in Malaysia.
Mr Najib said on Thursday that Malaysia would now allow North Koreans to leave the country.
"I would like to thank those in the Malaysian government involved in the negotiations, led by our Ministry of Foreign Affairs," Mr Najib said in the statement. "I had a deep personal concern about this matter, and we worked intensively behind the scenes to achieve this successful outcome. Many challenges were overcome to ensure the return of our fellow Malaysians," he added. "The safety and security of our citizens will always be my first priority."
He said the investigation into the murder would also continue.
Earlier on Thursday, a van believed to be carrying the body of Mr Kim, was seen leaving Malaysia's Hospital Kuala Lumpur for the Kuala Lumpur International Airport's cargo complex. Malaysian media had reported that the body was to be brought to Beijing on a Malaysia Airlines MH360 flight at 6pm on Thursday.
An embassy vehicle carrying several people was also seen leaving the compound of the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur, China Press reported.
Malaysian police said last week they were aware that three North Korean suspects who are wanted in the investigation into Kim’s murder had been taking refuge at the embassy.
Footage from Japan's News24 website late Thursday showed two North Korean suspects wanted by the Malaysian police - a North Korean embassy official and an employee of North Korean airline Air Koryo - aboard a flight leaving for Beijing.
Two women – an Indonesian and a Vietnamese – are now in custody, accused of smearing the toxin on Mr Kim's face.
Four other North Korean suspects fled the country on the day of the attack.