North Korea denies killing leader’s half-brother, blames Malaysia
February 23, 2017
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea denied any role in the killing of Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, saying reports that he was poisoned to death were false.
The regime also accused Malaysia and South Korea of conspiring to politicize the death by blaming Pyongyang.
Thursday’s statement on the North’s state-run news agency came a day after Malaysian police said they were seeking two more North Korean suspects, including a senior diplomat, in connection with the Feb. 13 killing of Kim Jong Nam at an airport in Kuala Lumpur.
Investigators also said the two women — one Vietnamese and the other Indonesian — arrested on suspicion of poisoning Kim had been trained to coat their hands with toxic chemicals and wipe them on his face.
The Korean Central News Agency didn’t name Kim but said a North Korean citizen with a diplomatic passport fell into a state of shock and was confirmed to have “died of heart stroke.”
It was the first official word from government-controlled media, although North Korea’s ambassador to Malaysia has spoken to reporters in Kuala Lumpur.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, meanwhile, has been shown conducting business as usual, including smiling broadly in a photo taken during a visit to a catfish farm, according to a report earlier this week.
KCNA denied reports that Kim Jong Nam was poisoned to death and mocked the idea that the female suspects had coated their hands with poison “like lotion,” questioning how the women would have survived contact with the toxic substance.
Malaysian police have not identified the substance but said it was potent enough to kill Kim Jong Nam before he could make it to a hospital. They said the two women washed their hands afterward.
Kim Jong Nam, the eldest son of former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, was long considered the heir apparent to take power in the family dynasty until he fell out of favor with his father and went into exile. That paved the way for Kim Jong Un, who has the same father but a different mother, to take over when Kim Jong Il died of a heart attack in 2011.
Kim Jong Nam had been critical of his sibling’s regime in the past but largely maintained a low profile and lived abroad for the past 15 years. North Korea watchers have speculated that Kim Jong Un may have ordered the killing to eliminate any possibility of a rival to power. No family members have come forward to claim the body.
Malaysia has not directly implicated North Korea in the killing but has arrested one North Korean man and said it is seeking several others, including the second secretary at North Korea’s embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
The case has sparked a diplomatic row between the countries that could leave North Korea even more isolated, because it has very few allies due to sanctions and outrage over its nuclear-weapons program. Malaysia is one of fewer than 30 countries to have full diplomatic ties with North Korea, and it has been the site for semiofficial diplomatic talks between the communist state and the United States.
Still, North Korea dug in with its statement on Thursday.
“The biggest responsibility for his death rests with the government of Malaysia as the citizen of the DPRK died in its land,” KCNA said, using the acronym for the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
It also accused Malaysia of conducting an autopsy over the North’s objections and reiterated calls for a joint investigation to take place.
“Malaysia is obliged to hand his body to the [North Korean] side as it made an autopsy and forensic examination of it in an illegal and immoral manner,” KCNA said, quoting an unnamed spokesman for the Korean Jurists Committee.
South Korean officials have blamed North Korea for masterminding the attack but have offered no evidence other than the nationality of most of the suspects and Kim Jong Un’s track record of conducting executions and purges to consolidate power.
KCNA said South Korea had “kicked up a fuss” and was conspiring with Malaysia to politicize the issue by having North Korea blamed for the killing.