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Fourth suspect in Kim Jong Nam's murder an expert in chemistry

This article is more than 12 months old

KUALA LUMPUR The fourth suspect arrested over the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's half-brother, Mr Kim Jong Nam, is the first North Korean citizen detained so far and has expertise in chemistry.

Ri Jong Chol, from Pyongyang, graduated in the science and medicine field from a university in North Korea in 2000.

About 10 years later, he was involved in research at a centre in Kolkata, India, until 2011.

Sources told The Star that Ri then returned to Pyongyang before he got an offer from an IT company based in Malaysia.

"It is still too early to conclude that he is behind the liquid poison believed to have been used to kill Mr Kim," The Star quoted an unnamed source as saying.

"He is also being quizzed on the whereabouts of his other accomplices, who are still at large."

Malaysia's Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said the 47-year-old was detained on Friday night.

IGP Khalid said in a statement: "Based on an i-KAD that he has in his possession, the suspect is identified as... a citizen of the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea."

Ri has since been remanded for seven days until Friday.

It is learnt that the suspect was arrested after police raided a condominium in Jalan Kuchai Lama. The suspect often travelled in and out of Malaysia and has been in the country for at least a year.

Neighbours of Ri at the Dynasty Garden Condominium said he was a "friendly family man".

A neighbour told the New Straits Times: "He moved into this place with his wife and daughter, who is in her 20s, a year and a half ago.

"He would always have lunch at a cafe in the condominium with his family on weekdays.

"None of us suspected anything amiss with the family."

On Friday, the neighbour said he heard a commotion at Ri's unit. At least a dozen men were standing outside the doorway to Ri's unit.

He surmised they were plainclothes policemen.

"The men broke the door down as Ri didn't want to open the door.

"I thought maybe Ri and his family had stayed in the country illegally.

"The police told me to stay in the house and close the door. They also told other residents... to do the same."

He said police stayed in Ri's unit for an hour.

"And then, all was quiet. I did not know what had happened until I saw the news."

Another neighbour said he had just returned home when he passed by Ri's unit, packed with policemen.

"His door was left open. The police were screaming at him in the living room.

"He looked nervous. His wife was there beside him and his daughter was crying outside the house.

"The daughter was talking to someone on the phone. The wife and daughter seemed clueless as to what was happening."

Little known about N Koreans in M'sia

KUALA LUMPUR Malaysia's only North Korean restaurant promises a glimpse into life in the reclusive state but it has been shuttered since news broke of the assassination, with security guards turning customers away.

Pyongyang Koryo is the most visible symbol of a 1,000-strong North Korean community in Malaysia, made up of a business elite as well as ordinary workers who will likely know little about the Cold War-style killing of Mr Kim Jong Nam.

Waitresses at the restaurant, one of dozens the North has established abroad, wear traditional dress and entertain diners with singing and dancing at the unassuming building in a sleepy residential area of Kuala Lumpur.

But even when the doors are open, neighbours say the young women have little contact with the wider world as they are shuttled to and from their accommodation.

"I've seen the women being taken to and from the compound and they never walk this way or talk to anyone," said Mr Jack Liew, who runs a car workshop that shares a back alley with the restaurant.

When asked by South Korea's Chosun TV whether Pyongyang could have been behind the killing, a North Korean said: "This is dog talk (nonsense)," before walking away and telling the reporter to leave him alone. - AFP

Kim killed by new chemical?

PETALING JAYA The chemical that killed Mr Kim Jong Nam is likely to be a new chemical and not easily detected, according to a top toxicologist who spoke on condition of anonymity.

He said the chemical that could kill quickly after being sprayed on the face could be a cyanide-based or chlorine-based gas dissolved in solvent.

In a political assassination, the perpetrators are not likely to use it because they may have more effective toxic chemicals.

If poison is sprayed on the face, it could be in vapour form, and the chemical could kill more rapidly, said the toxicologist.

In cyanide poisoning cases, the colour of the skin would darken as a result of blockage of respiratory function and forensic pathologists would be able to tell quite easily, he said.

He added the chemicals could be in a canister, glass capsule or aerosol container, The Star reported. The killer could have opened the glass capsule in a handkerchief and forced it into the victim's nose.

"But I don't think the perpetrators will use common chemicals because they may have better and more effective chemicals which are produced specifically for this purpose.

"I suspect it may be a new chemical. They can also mix a lot of che­micals together and it is difficult to pinpoint.

"We cannot speculate because the chance of getting it right is one in a million," said the toxicologist.

He said he would not know the possibilities unless the samples are sent to him for analysis.

On Thursday, the Chemistry Department here received several samples for analysis from the police.

A chemist who declined to be named said that if the chemical that was being analysed is a common one, it would usually take a few days, but if it was not one that could be tested by available methods, it might take longer.

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