PETALING JAYA: A report published by the BBC yesterday highlighted the vast difference in the way the British and Malaysian governments handled the issue of nerve agent attacks on foreign citizens on its soil.
This follows the recent claim by the British government that Russia was behind the attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter in Salisbury, using a rare nerve agent. Both victims remain critically-ill in hospital.
On Wednesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May said that 23 Russian diplomats will be expelled and Russian state assets in the country will also be frozen.
Britain also requested help from the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and brought the matter to the UN Security Council.
May had said the pair were attacked with Novichok, a Soviet-era military-grade nerve agent. She had asked Moscow to explain whether it was responsible for the attack or had lost control of stocks of the highly dangerous substance.
Russia has denied any involvement, and May told parliament Moscow had provided no credible explanation for the attack, resulting in the strong response against the Vladimir Putin-led government.
In comparison, the BBC pointed out how the killing of Kim Jong Nam did not elicit any blame by the Malaysian government against North Korea despite overwhelming evidence pointing in that direction.
Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was killed on Feb 13 last year at klia2, where he was to take a flight to Macau. He was attacked by two women who wiped his face with a substance later identified as VX nerve agent, a chemical poison classified as a weapon of mass destruction by the United Nations.
Two weeks after the attack, two women – Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong – were charged with the murder under Section 302 of the Penal Code that carries the mandatory death penalty upon conviction. Their trial is ongoing .
Four other male suspects, all North Korean, fled Malaysia on the same day of the murder. Police had identified them as Ri Ji Hyon, Hong Song Hac, O Jong Gil and Ri Jae Nam.
Despite being aware of these four and another possible suspect, a North Korean under secretary who was holed up at the embassy in Kuala Lumpur, the report says Malaysian authorities did little to investigate the role of the North Korean government.
While the police had officially confirmed the use of the VX nerve agent 11 days after the attack, the official response from the Malaysian government condemning the use of VX was only released one week later, but “it did not link the attack in any way to North Korea”.
“In fact the only time Malaysia has ever directly accused North Korea was on March 8, when it transpired that three Malaysian diplomats and six family members were being prevented from leaving Pyongyang,” the BBC report said.
The report cited the strong words uttered by Prime Minister Najib Razak when describing the Malaysian citizens in Pyongyang as “hostages”, and adding that they were held by “a state that had assassinated its own citizen on Malaysian soil, using a banned chemical weapon”.
“Just why Malaysia should be so reluctant to get to the bottom of a brazen and dangerous political assassination is still unclear,” the BBC said.
Until today, the North Korean government continues to deny that the man killed in the airport was Kim Jong Nam, insisting that he is Kim Chol, as per the passport he was holding.
According to the BBC, the Malaysian authorities seem to have accepted that too, with the prosecution in the murder trial of the two women stating the deceased as as Kim Chol, without mentioning any involvement by North Korea or its citizens.