KUALA LUMPUR, Mar 30 – Malaysia Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Haji Mohammad Najib bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak said on Thursday that the body of Kim Jong Nam, half-brother to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the victim of a bizarre murder at Kuala Lumpur airport, has been released to North Korea at the request of his family.
He said the nine Malaysians – three diplomats and their six family members -who had been barred from leaving North Korea have been allowed to return to Malaysia. The nine Malaysians took off from Pyongyang today at 7.45pm Malaysian time, and will land in Kuala Lumpur tomorrow around 5am.
He said this in the statement which did not mention Kim Jong-Nam by name, referring to hims only as ‘the deceased’. Kim, 45, was poisoned at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on February 13 in a brazen Cold War-style assassination using a lethal nerve agent banned by the UN as a weapon of mass destruction.
Kim died within 20 minutes of the attack, before reaching the hospital. Najib’s statement said: ‘In addition, following the completion of the autopsy on the deceased and receipt of a letter from his family requesting the remains be returned to North Korea, the coroner has approved the release of the body.’
The body is to be returned to family in North Korea, KCNA news agency said, adding that both countries would lift reciprocal bans on travel by citizens and guarantee their safety, letting the nine Malaysians now in Pyongyang return home. Kim’s body was believed to be on Malaysia Airlines flight MH360 to Beijing, en route to North Korea.
The Malaysians left Pyongyang in a Royal Malaysian Air Force business jet, which headed immediately west out of North Korean airspace before turning south towards Malaysia, according to flight tracking website planefinder.net. The agreement was reached after recent talks between North Korea and Malaysia in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, Najib’s statement added.
A joint statement by the North Korean government released simultaneously said both countries managed to ‘resolve issues arising from the death of a DPRK national’ in Malaysia at a meeting in Kuala Lumpur. “The importance of bilateral relations was reaffirmed. In this connection, both countries agreed to positively discuss the re-introduction of the visa-free system and work towards bringing the relations to a higher level,” read the statement from North Korea.
North Korea does not acknowledge the dead man is Kim Jong Nam, the half brother of leader Kim Jong Un. Pyongyang continues to refer to him as Kim Chol, the name on the diplomatic passport Kim was carrying when he died. South Korea has blamed Pyongyang for Kim’s death, but the North has rejected those claims and has never confirmed the identity of the victim, who was carrying a passport bearing the name of Kim Chol when he was attacked.
Pyongyang had denounced Malaysia’s investigation as an attempt to smear the secretive regime, insisting that Kim most likely died of a heart attack. Two women – one Vietnamese and one Indonesian – have been arrested and charged with the murder. Airport CCTV footage shows them approaching the 45-year-old victim and apparently smearing his face with a piece of cloth.
The killing triggered a bitter row between Malaysia and North Korea, which have expelled each other’s ambassadors and barred their citizens from leaving. Malaysia also expelled the North Korean ambassador for being “diplomatically rude”, though Najib later said that ties with Pyongyang would not be severed in a bid to calm relations. Kim’s body had been at a Kuala Lumpur morgue for more than a month following his death, as no family member came forward to claim the body.
Malaysia had refused North Korea’s request to release the body without an autopsy and investigation. It expelled the North Korean ambassador over his remarks questioning the investigations. Kim Jong Nam, who had been living in the Chinese territory of Macau under Beijing’s protection, had spoken out publicly against his family’s dynastic control of the isolated, nuclear-armed North Korea.