PETALING JAYA: A North Korean man, who was arrested in connection with the dramatic airport murder of Kim Jong Nam two years ago, has been living a normal life, with a new clip released by Al Jazeera showing him enjoying a karaoke session in a restaurant in China.
Ri Jong Chol, 48, was taken in by Malaysian police days after the attack on Jong Nam — who was thought to have a falling out with his half-brother, North Korean strongman Kim Jong Un — at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 in Sepang on Feb 13, 2017.
But Ri was released in what is believed to be a quietly arranged deal with North Korea, which had seized nine Malaysians at the embassy in Pyongyang.
The authorities in Malaysia had then said that there was not enough evidence to charge Ri, despite evidence showing he had been in touch with the North Korean ambassador and other diplomats. Arriving in Beijing after his release, Ri accused Malaysian police of trying to force him to confess to the murder.
In its latest investigative report, Al Jazeera showed Ri partying in a restaurant in China, in a clip it said was recorded months after the assasination.
The report was put out ahead of the release of Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, who was charged with the murder of Jong Nam alongside Indonesian Siti Aisyah.
Siti Aisyah was freed earlier after prosecutors dropped the charge against her.
Doan is expected to walk out of prison tomorrow.
The two women were seen in a CCTV recording at klia2 applying the deadly VX nerve agent to Jong Nam’s face. He died two hours later. Both have denied the charges, saying they were tricked into thinking that they were part of a television prank show.
Al Jazeera said it has seen documents as well as Ri’s phone contents showing how he had been closely in touch with the North Korean ambassador and other diplomats.
“Five months before Kim was poisoned, Ri received $38,000 in cash. Police said they found the cash along with five computer devices, four phones and a bottle of chloride at his high-rise apartment in a Kuala Lumpur suburb,” the report said.
Among others, it said Ri worked in the IT department of a small herbal medicine firm called Tombo Enterprise in Malaysia.
It quoted the company’s owner, Chong Ah Kow, as saying that he gave Ri a job as a favour to a friend.
It also said that foreign investigators believed Ri was a North Korean government agent “who helped North Korea dodge sanctions by sourcing what it needed, making money and doing it with a cover story”.
“Officers suspect he concocted the nerve agent at home. They searched Ri’s apartment once, interviewed him once and failed to test his belongings for VX residue,” it added.
Al Jazeera said Malaysian police have declined to comment.