North Korean 'masterminds' behind Kim Jong Nam killing remain a mystery
KUALA LUMPUR: One month into the trial of the killing of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's half-brother, Malaysian prosecutors have focused on two accused women, but have shed no light on four prime North Korean suspects.
Historically close ties between North Korea and Malaysia unravelled as the Southeast Asian country started investigating the alleged murder of Kim Jong Nam, who died after the two women smeared his face with VX, a banned chemical weapon, at Kuala Lumpur airport on Feb. 13.
Malaysian police declared two women, Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Doan Thi Huong from Vietnam, and four men who fled to North Korea, as prime suspects.
Police secured an Interpol alert for the four men, identified as North Koreans Ri Ji Hyon, Hong Song Hac, O Jong Gil, and Ri Jae Nam. Their photos and passport details were widely distributed among media organisations.
But as the trial enters its fourth week, prosecutors have yet to name the four men or even confirm their North Korean origin in court.
The case's lead police investigator, Wan Azirul Nizam Che Wan Aziz, has referred to the suspects only by their pseudonyms during the trial and said that authorities did not have enough information to trace and arrest them.
"Based on my investigation, the suspects used assumed names and there were no identifying details such as passport numbers or telephone numbers," Wan Azirul told the court.
Kim Jong Nam and his relationship with North Korea's leader has been barely mentioned throughout the trial.
Witnesses and lawyers alike refer to the victim as Kim Chol, according to the name on his North Korean passport.
Nor have prosecutors made any mention of what South Korean intelligence sources have described as a state-sponsored plot to kill Kim Jong Nam, who had been living in exile in Macau. Both South Korean and US officials say Kim Jong Un's regime were behind the killing, which Pyongyang vehemently denies.
"The question of who (the victim) is related to is only relevant when trying to determine the motive, but it's up to the prosecutors if they want to avoid having to prove a conspiracy involving the head of state of a foreign government," Shad Saleem Faruqi, a law professor at the Kuala Lumpur-based University of Malaya.