The only North Korean arrested over the airport assassination of Kim Jong-Nam is to be deported, Malaysia said Thursday, as Pyongyang announced that he may have died from a heart attack.
The moves came the day after two young women appeared in court charged with murdering the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un with a banned nerve agent.
Attorney general Mohamed Apandi Ali said 47-year-old Ri Jong-Chol would be released and deported on Friday.
“His remand expires and there is insufficient evidence to charge him. He has no proper [travel] documents so we will deport him,” Apandi said.
Seven other North Koreans are wanted in connection with the killing, including a diplomat and an airline employee who are believed to be in Malaysia. Four others are thought to have fled to Pyongyang on the day of the murder.
Ri was arrested days after Kim suffered an agonizing death when he was attacked at Kuala Lumpur International Airport as he waited to board a flight to Macau. CCTV footage shows two women approaching the heavyset 45-year-old and appearing to thrust a cloth in his face.
Police say he suffered a seizure and died less than 20 minutes later, without reaching hospital. Swabs of the dead man’s face revealed traces of the VX nerve agent, a synthetic chemical so deadly that it is classed as a weapon of mass destruction.
Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25, and Doan Thi Huong, 28, from Vietnam, were charged with murder on Wednesday. If found guilty, they could be hanged.
South Korea has consistently pointed the finger of blame at North Korea, citing what they say was a standing order from Kim Jong-Un to kill his exiled half-brother.
However, North Korea said there were strong indications that a heart attack may have killed Kim.
A former North Korean deputy ambassador to the United Nations said Ri Tong Il said samples of the toxic substance found in the autopsy should be sent to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
Pyongyang – which has never acknowledged Kim’s identity – has denied the charge and disputes the autopsy, claiming Malaysia is in cahoots with its enemies.
On Thursday Kuala Lumpur — which had earlier recalled its ambassador — said it was cancelling its visa-free travel deal with Pyongyang.
The government was implementing the change on the grounds of national security, deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said.
The cancellation will take effect on March 6, after which North Koreans entering Malaysia will be required to obtain a visa.