Kim Jong-nam

North Koreans linked to Kim Jong-nam’s murder arrive in Beijing, on same flight as his body

North Korean pair heads straight to embassy, after refusing to answer a reporter’s questions on late-night flight from Malaysia

PUBLISHED : Friday, 31 March, 2017, 10:13am
UPDATED : Friday, 31 March, 2017, 10:35pm

Two men linked to the apparent assassination seven weeks ago of Kim Jong-nam were among a group of North Koreans who arrived in Beijing on Friday from Malaysia on a flight believed to be transporting his body.

The pair, who resembled those suspected of involvement in the murder of the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, were accompanied by officials who had engaged in behind-the-scenes negotiations over the transfer of the body to Pyongyang.

The North Koreans, who exited Beijing airport via a VIP gate, later entered the North Korean Embassy at around 3am. They are expected to return to Pyongyang within days.

The remains of the half-brother will be transferred to Pyongyang as requested by his family, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said Thursday, after a weeks-long diplomatic spat over the brazen killing that is still rife with unknowns.

“Following the completion of the autopsy on the deceased and receipt of a letter from his family requesting the remains to be returned to North Korea, the coroner has approved the release of the body,” Najib said in a statement.

North Korea and Malaysia almost simultaneously announced an agreement, including lifting reciprocal travel bans.

In exchange for releasing the body, nine Malaysian nationals who had been stranded in North Korea arrived back in Kuala Lumpur on Friday morning aboard a 19-seater Royal Malaysian Air Force business jet.

The nine were welcomed by Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman and their family members.

The aircraft refuelled at Fuzhou Changle International Airport in China before continuing on to Malaysia, according to the air force.

Malaysian police have said the 45-year-old brother died on February 13 after two women smeared the extremely toxic nerve agent VX on his face at Kuala Lumpur International Airport’s budget terminal.

The two women, an Indonesian and a Vietnamese, were charged with murder on March 1, with Malaysian prosecutors saying they had “common intention” with four North Koreans still at large to carry out the poison attack.

A Kyodo News journalist travelled on the Beijing-bound Malaysian Airlines scheduled flight and posed questions to the North Korean men, but they remained tight-lipped.

The two men, who wore sunglasses while on the plane, are believed to be Hyon Kwang-song, second secretary of the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, and Kim Uk-il, an employee of the country’s national carrier Air Koryo, who was served an arrest warrant issued by Malaysian police.

The names of the two men, who had holed up in the embassy, were on the boarding list of the Malaysian Airlines flight, according to an airport source.

A North Korean statement, reported by its official media, said that as Pyongyang has provided “all necessary documentations related to the body of the deceased from the family, Malaysia agreed to facilitate the transfer.”

“Both countries reaffirmed their desire to resolve the existing issues, based on the fundamental strength of their bilateral relations,” it said.

North Korea has never acknowledged that the deceased is the half-brother of its current leader, or the eldest son of late leader Kim Jong-il, instead referring to him as Kim Chol, the name that appeared in the diplomatic passport he was travelling on.

In its statement, North Korea said delegations from the two countries recently held a meeting to “resolve issues arising from the death of (its) national,” again without naming him as Kim Jong-nam, who was educated abroad and had led a life in exile for many years.

It instead underscored the importance of diplomatic ties between North Korea and Malaysia, established in 1973, and went on to say, “In this connection, both countries agreed to positively discuss the re-introduction of the visa-free system and work towards bringing the relations to a higher level.”

Malaysia, which did not say anything about the possibility of resuming the visa-free program, strongly suspects that North Koreans were behind the murder.

“Our police investigation into this serious crime on Malaysian soil will continue,” Najib said. “I have instructed for all possible measures to be taken to bring those responsible for this murder to justice.”

But Malaysian police have said it is almost certain that the four men already in North Korea after flying out of Kuala Lumpur shortly after the deadly attack were responsible for masterminding it.

Still, North Korea has asserted that the man died of a heart attack and accused Malaysia of being “in collusion” with countries “hostile” to Pyongyang in carrying out the investigation.