North Korea offers a conspiracy theory about Malaysia and the death of Kim Jong Un’s half brother
North Korea’s first official statement on the assassination of Kim Jong Un’s half brother blamed Malaysia’s government, ratcheting up regional tensions as the increasingly bizarre investigation moves into its 10th day.
In a statement issued to the state-run KCNA news agency, a North Korean government spokesperson accused Malaysian authorities of colluding with South Korea to spread the conspiracy theory that Kim Jong Un ordered the hit of his estranged half brother at the Kuala Lumpur airport 10 days ago.
“The biggest responsibility for his death rests with the government of Malaysia, as the citizen of the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] died in its land,” the statement said.
The remarks failed to mention King Jong Nam by name, identifying him only as a citizen of the DPRK who held a diplomatic passport.
A spokesman for the Korean Jurists Committee, a legal body affiliated with North Korea’s rubber-stamp Parliament, issued the statement. The comments laid out an elaborate conspiracy in which Malaysian authorities initially told North Korean officials that Kim Jong Nam died of a heart attack, then changed their account of what happened.
Pyongyang is spinning an elaborate conspiracy theory that alleges Malaysian and South Korean authorities colluded with the U.S. to spread the story that North Korean agents hired two female assassins to poison Kim Jong Nam. Malaysian authorities have arrested four people so far, including one North Korean. Seven other North Koreans are wanted for questioning.
“What merits more serious attention is the fact that the unjust acts of the Malaysian side are timed to coincide with the anti-DPRK conspiratorial racket launched by the South Korean authorities,” the North Korean statement said.
North Korea has accused Malaysia, historically one of the Hermit Kingdom’s few allies, of having an “unfriendly attitude,” and pointed to “holes and contradictions” in the Malaysian account of what happened. Pyongyang also accused Malaysian authorities of violating international law by conducting autopsies on a person with a diplomatic passport.
The Malaysian government has yet to respond to the latest accusations from Pyongyang, but earlier this week it recalled its ambassador to North Korea after the North Korean ambassador to Malaysia, Kang Chol, accused the Malaysian authorities of “trying to conceal something” and “colluding with hostile forces.”
Malaysia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman said the comments were “deeply insulting,” and added that the investigations were “done impartially and without fear or favor.” Malaysia has so far denied repeated calls by North Korea to hand back Kim Jong Nam’s body.
Here’s a run-down of where the investigation stands:
- Kim Jong Nam, the eldest son of former leader Kim Jong Il, was poisoned at Kuala Lumpur airport Feb. 13, by two women who reportedly doused their hands in a toxic liquid before rubbing them in their victim’s face. He died on his way to the hospital. Two autopsies have been carried out — but so far no conclusive cause of death has been announced.
- Kim Jong Nam maintained ties to the North Korean regime, but an embarrassing incident in 2001 in Japan effectively saw him exiled, and for the last 15 years he has lived primarily in Macau. He has three children with two women.
- Malaysian police have arrested four people so far. Two female suspects — one Vietnamese and one Indonesian — the boyfriend of one of the women, and a North Korean man. The North Korean embassy has called for the two women to be freed, saying they are innocent, asking that if they had toxic chemicals on their hands, “then how is it possible that these female suspects could still be alive?”
- One of the arrested women claims she thought she was taking part in a prank TV show. Malaysian Police Chief Khalid Abu Bakar dismissed this explanation, saying the two women were spotted practicing the attack twice in shopping centers in Kuala Lumpur. Airport surveillance footage of the incident appears to show the women quickly and deliberately approaching Kim Jong Nam, with one placing her hands on his face from behind.
- The police are searching for seven other people as part of their investigation. Two of those suspects are North Korean diplomat Hyon Kwang Song and an employee of the North Korean state-owned airline, Air Koryo. Both of them are thought to be hiding out at the embassy in Kuala Lumpur. Police sources called Hyon “the supervisor of the whole plot.” Four other suspects are thought to have flown back to Pyongyang immediately after the attack.
- Earlier this week there was an attempted break-in at the morgue where Kim Jong Nam’s body is being stored. Police say they know who is responsible but won’t confirm them as being from North Korea.
The bizarre circumstances mask what could be a much bigger problem for North Korea. By denying it carried out the attack, it is in danger of alienating its main ally, China, the country that had sheltered Kim Jong Nam for the last 15 years. Having already angered Malaysia — with whom it previously enjoyed a cordial relationship — the secretive kingdom’s list of friends in the international community is dwindling fast.