Malaysia yesterday released and later deported the only North Korean arrested in connection with the murder of Mr Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of the regime's leader, as the authorities had insufficient evidence to charge him.
Mr Ri Jong Chol, 47, boarded a flight to Beijing yesterday evening en route to Pyongyang. Malaysian authorities said he is now blacklisted from entering the country.
"Because he is considered as unwanted in this country, he has been blacklisted so he cannot return to Malaysia," said Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
Datuk Seri Zahid said the deportation was done owing to Mr Ri's travel documents, which had expired and were improperly obtained.
Mr Ri's work visa was sponsored by health trading company Tombo Enterprise, to facilitate export deals involving North Korean health products, but the owner said Mr Ri was not employed by the company.
Officials confirmed that Mr Ri, escorted by two North Korean Embassy officers, was returning home via China. Malaysia had released him after his remand ended yesterday.
Local media reports suggest that Mr Ri's car was used by one of the four North Korean suspects who fled the country immediately after the Feb 13 attack.
Closed-circuit television (CCTV) camera footage caught four men near the crime scene, who watched two women smear poison on Mr Kim before fleeing.
Meanwhile, Malaysia also issued an arrest warrant yesterday for an Air Koryo staff member, Mr Kim Uk Il, almost two weeks after police identified him as one of those who could assist in the murder investigations. Reports have been rife that Mr Kim Uk Il, along with a diplomat sought by the police, could be holed up in the North Korean Embassy, in a large bungalow in Kuala Lumpur.
"As long as a person is inside the premise of any embassy or high commission office, we have to follow the rule of diplomatic procedure," said Mr Zahid, commenting on the authorities' possible actions.
Preliminary autopsy results showed that Mr Kim Jong Nam had died from the lethal VX nerve agent. Malaysia's Foreign Ministry said yesterday it has cooperated with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which provided Malaysia with materials needed to assist in its investigation.
This comes after North Korean officials cast doubt over the use of VX and criticised Malaysia's handling of the case. The North Korean ambassador also repeatedly accused Malaysia of colluding with its enemies, earning the rebuke of Malaysian officials, including Mr Zahid.
"If the criticisms continue, he will pay a heavy price as an ambassador," the Deputy Prime Minister said yesterday, calling for North Korean officials to respect Malaysia's legal system.
Earlier this week, a high-level delegation arrived from North Korea, seeking the release of Mr Kim's body.
Malaysia has charged both women - an Indonesian and a Vietnamese national - over Mr Kim's murder. It is relying on evidence from the autopsy and CCTV footage to try them in court, Mr Zahid said.