VX nerve agent on Kim Jong Nam was 1.4 times the lethal dose: Malaysian chemist

A Royal Malaysia Police officer stands guard at the Malaysia Chemistry Department in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, on Oct 9, 2017.
A Royal Malaysia Police officer stands guard at the Malaysia Chemistry Department in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, on Oct 9, 2017.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SHAH ALAM, SELANGOR - A Malaysian court heard on Tuesday (Oct 10) that the concentration of  the deadly VX nerve agent found on the skin of Mr Kim Jong Nam, half-brother of North Korea's leader, was 1.4 times the lethal dose.

The court also heard that Mr Kim's personal items that tested positive for VX were sent back to North Korea.

Resuming his testimony on Tuesday,  Mr Raja Subramaniam, chemist with the Chemistry Department of Malaysia, detailed the lethal potential of VX. He said animal studies showed the lethal dosage is 0.142 milligrams per kilogramme of body weight, and that 50 per cent of the tested population will die when exposed to this dosage on their skin.

He estimated the concentrate on Mr Kim’s facial skin was 0.2 milligram per kilogramme of body weight.

Asked if the VX agent found on Mr Kim’s face was enough to kill the North Korean, he said: “I can’t give a direct answer on this. Based on concentrate estimate, it is about 1.4 times the lethal dosage.” 

The court also heard that Mr Kim's personal items were sent back to North Korea. "The blazer was placed in a paper bag and was returned to the officer on March 30, 2017," said the chemist.

When asked by defence counsel Gooi Soon Seng if the blazer and  other items were sent back to North Korea, he said, "I was told, yes", adding that he was instructed to do so by the police investigating officer.

The 12 items include Mr Kim's blazer and Tumi bag, both of which had tested positive for the precursor and degradation products for VX. Mr Raja said samples had also been destroyed after testing, as per standard operating procedures.

Mr Kim, the estranged half-brother of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, died on Feb 13 after collapsing at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport while awaiting his flight to Macau. Closed-circuit television footage showed two women approaching him separately with their hands over his face. The authorities said the women had smeared the deadly chemical weapon, VX nerve agent, on Mr Kim, causing his death.

Mr Raja, the eighth witness called by the prosecution, had tested samples from both the victim and the two women. His findings led to the authorities concluding that Mr Kim had died from VX, a chemical weapon banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Last Thursday, he testified that the clothing worn by both women had tested positive for precursors and degradation products of VX.

VX requires a mixture of harmless chemicals to form the dangerous substance. Precursors are chemicals needed to form VX while degradation products are altered compounds of VX that occur in instances like dilution.

The court heard from Mr Raja's testimony on Tuesday that the precursors and degradation products found in the case were all non-toxic.

Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25 and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, 28, were arrested by police days after Mr Kim died. Both women have been charged with murder. They pleaded not guilty last week.

If convicted, they face the death penalty.

The trial will span two months with a total of 153 witnesses to be called by the prosecution.