Kim Jong Nam killing: North Korean Ri Jong Chol deported and blacklisted by Malaysia

North Korean suspect in Kim Jong Nam murder, Ri Jong Chol, leaves a Sepang police station to be deported, in Malaysia on March 3, 2017.
North Korean suspect in Kim Jong Nam murder, Ri Jong Chol, leaves a Sepang police station to be deported, in Malaysia on March 3, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia on Friday (March 3) deported North Korean citizen Ri Jong Chol, who was arrested over the murder of Mr Kim Jong Nam, hours after he was released by police.

Mr Ri boarded a flight headed to Beijing Friday evening en route for his return home to Pyongyang.

In a statement on Friday, Malaysia's Immigration Department said he was handed over by police at about 9.30am. The statement said Mr Ri would be escorted by two North Korean Embassy officials.

Mr Ri, who was one of eight North Koreans suspected of being involved in the murder of the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, had been released due to a lack of evidence to indict him over the killing.

Mr Ri's two-week remand period ended on Friday. He was deported "as he has no valid travel documents", Attorney-General Apandi Ali said on Thursday.

North Korean suspect in Kim Jong Nam murder, Ri Jong Chol, leaves a Sepang police station to be deported, in Malaysia, on March 3, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

Speaking to reporters after an event on Friday, Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said Mr Ri had been blacklisted so he could not return to Malaysia.

Police had questioned Mr Ri and his family, and raided his home, following reports that he had been in contact with four other North Koreans who left Malaysia on the same day that Mr Kim Jong Nam was killed at Kuala Lumpur’s airport on Feb 13.

Two foreign women have been charged with Mr Kim Jong Nam’s murder after they allegedly smeared a deadly nerve agent on his face at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2, as the 45-year-old was preparing to board a flight to Macau. He died on the way to hospital.

Mr Ri has been in Malaysia on a work permit sponsored by health products trader Tombo Enterprises. The company’s owner admitted sponsoring Mr Ri’s work permit to facilitate business deals, but denied that the 47-year-old was an employee.

North Korea has alleged that Malaysia subverted investigations in a conspiracy with its enemies. Pyongyang, which Washington and Seoul believe was behind the assassination, has also refused to acknowledge the victim as Mr Kim Jong Nam, insisting that his name is Kim Chol, as was stated on the passport Mr Kim was carrying. 

On Thursday, a high-level North Korean delegation told reporters that Mr Kim Chol had a history of heart disease and needed medication for his condition, rejecting autopsy findings that he had been poisoned.

Dr Ahmad Zahid on Friday reiterated that the investigation is based on strong evidence, adding that North Korea should respect Malaysia’s legal system and allow the legal process to take its course. 

“Our investigation is based on DNA, foreign elements, content of the chemical used and high definition CCTV evidence.” He said these four elements would be used as evidence to try the two women, as well as others who may be accused, in court. 

Malaysian police are still looking for seven North Koreans to assist in the investigations. They include Mr Hyon Kwang Song, a second secretary at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur, who has diplomatic immunity.

Malaysia on Friday also issued an arrest warrant for 37-year-old Kim Uk Il, a staff member of North Korean airline Air Koryo.

Another North Korean by the name of Ri Ji U is also being sought. 

Malaysian police have said they believe at least two of the individuals sought are still in the country. 

On the possibility that the individuals may be holed up at the North Korean embassy, Dr Ahmad Zahid said: “As long as a person is inside the premise of any embassy or high commission office, we have to follow the rules of diplomatic procedure.”