North Korean assassination suspect says Malaysia hatched conspiracy to damage Pyongyang’s honour
Ri Jong-chol told reporters he was presented with false evidence in Malaysia, and police showed him pictures of his family in detention
Ri Jong-chol, a suspect in the murder of the estranged half-brother of North Korea’s leader, said in Beijing that he was a victim of a conspiracy by Malaysian authorities attempting to damage the honour of North Korea.
Ri, a North Korean, accused Malaysia of using coercion to try to extract a confession from him, in comments to reporters outside the North Korean embassy in Beijing early on Saturday.
Kim Jong-nam was murdered on February 13 at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, after being assaulted by two women who Malaysian police believe smeared his face with VX, a chemical classified by the United Nations as a weapon of mass destruction.
The murder of Kim Jong-nam has soured relations between Malaysia and North Korea, which had maintained friendly ties for decades.
Ri said he was not at the airport on the day of the killing, and knew nothing about the accusation that his car was used in the case.
“I didn’t go [to the airport], and I had no reason to go. I was just doing my work,” he said.
Ri said he had worked in Malaysia trading ingredients needed for soap.
He was in Beijing on his way back to North Korea after Malaysia deported him on Friday.
Ri was met at Beijing’s international airport early on Saturday by a swarm of South Korean and Japanese reporters, but he was whisked away from the chaotic scene by Chinese police before he was able to make any statement.
Outside the North Korean embassy, Ri told reporters that he was presented with false evidence in Malaysia, and police showed him pictures of his family in detention.
“These men kept telling me to admit to the crime, and if not, my whole family would be killed, and you too won’t be safe,” he said.
Ri claimed police has told him he would be rewarded with a comfortable life in Malaysia if he confessed.
“If you accept everything, you can live a good life in Malaysia,” Ri said. “This is when I realised that this is a conspiracy, plot, to try to damage the status and honour of the republic.
“But no way. No matter how good a life it could be, it is still not as good as my own motherland. How could I forget the motherland that raised me and fed me to this point?”
South Korean intelligence and US officials say the murder was an assassination organised by North Korean agents.
Kim, who had been living in the Chinese territory of Macau under Beijing’s protection, had spoken out publicly against his family’s dynastic control of isolated, nuclear-armed North Korea.
Ri was due to take a flight to return to Pyongyang on Saturday afternoon.
He did not take the flight but instead, the North Korean embassy in China summoned reporters and representatives from foreign embassies in Beijing to attend a second press conference with Ri in the afternoon.
However, the North Korean embassy cancelled the press briefing at the last minute without giving any reasons or any updates about Ri.
Malaysia on Saturday expelled North Korea’s ambassador Kang Chol, with the foreign ministry saying he must leave Malaysia within 48 hours.
Additional reporting by Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, Catherine Wong