04.03.2017 Author: Konstantin Asmolov

Concerning the Investigation of the Murder of Kim Jong-nam: VX or FX?

34534534534534In the previous text, dedicated to the investigation of the murder in Kuala Lumpur, we have analyzed the pros and cons of the North Korean track, which, in terms of Pyongyang’s enemies, received confirmation after Malaysian authorities finally announced the cause of death. During the autopsy, traces of a poisonous nerve agent such as VX were found on the face and in the eyes of the dead man. The indicated poisonous substance is the most toxic of substances used as chemical weapons: death occurs in 10-15 minutes. Since the times of the Iraq-Kuwait crisis of the 1990’s, VX has been banned by relevant conventions and was officially in use only in the Soviet Union and the United States.

As pointed out by experts, familiar to the author, it is possible to synthesize a small amount of this poisonous substance in a laboratory, and, as reported by the Malaysian newspaper “The Star”, police detained a local resident near whose property chemicals, a lot of gloves and shoes had been discovered, which the suspect apparently tried to remove from the house in a hurry. On February 23, a search was conducted in his house, where samples of the chemicals, overalls for working with chemicals, as well as syringes, gloves and other tools that could be used in the production of toxic substances were found. It is curious that the house was located two kilometers from the home of the North Korean diplomat and the South Korean media immediately stated that “the local media reported that the house had been rented by four North Koreans.” However, the author could not find such information in the Malaysian press, nor information that the arrested citizen of North Korea (DPRK) and expert chemist Lee Jong Chol implicated in the manufacture of poison had anything to do with the detainee, whose name is not mentioned. The only information available on Lee is that, although he had a document that Malaysian authorities usually issue to foreign workers, no-one had seen him in the workplace, indicated in the documents.

A statement by the Malaysian authorities about VX, confirmed first by the police and then on February 26, 2017, by the Ministry of Health, caused a predictable stir and were deployed by Pyongyang’s foes as: “North Korea used prohibited chemical weapons of mass destruction”, although the technical side of the attempt in this case, raises many questions.

Recall, that according to earlier police statements, the girls were just offered to participate in the action, after which they immeiately washed their hands in the restroom. However, considering the known toxicity of the poison, the girls themselves would have sustained some kind of injury, and the fact that they washed their hands, could reduce the injury, but not eliminate it completely. At the same time, some media pointed out that the removal of highly toxic substances such as VX from the skin in the absence of individual antidote packages would have required at least household bleach, not water.

Or, talk about the action is a lie, and the girls knew what they were getting into, and took an antidote or other precautions ahead of time. However, here there are even more questions for the girls. From their profiles on social networks, Internet users found that the citizen of Vietnam has repeatedly traveled to South Korea (out of 198 her friends on Facebook – 40 are from there), including – on a notarized invitation by a South Korean citizen, who on the day of the death of Kim Jong-nam immediately flew to France. It is possible to declare this “not a coincidence”, but the author considers something else to be more important. The girl, who regularly visited South Korea, could not help but be aware of the inter-Korean confrontation, and, therefore, would hardly be so gullible as to “fall for” the North Korean proposal.

Theoretically, one can imagine that North Korean spies posed as South Koreans, but then what to do with an information flash that, the other girl also had a “sponsor” with whom she occasionally went to Japan and South Korea, where a North Korean citizen cannot enter just like that. Of course, here too, we can imagine fake passports, but it means that the current level of evidence of the North Korean track is the same as the amount of evidence for the version of the South Korean provocation.

However, here the author would not bet on the official position of Seoul. South Korean intelligence agencies are too compromised, their leadership would not have risked to issue an order, which is too dangerous in the event of exposure, and the political situation in South Korea makes the possibility of leakage too great. It is easier to imagine some NGO, such as some Protestant sect, which has in its ranks a number of North Korean defectors.

The author is waiting for further investigation findings (by far not all that the police found has been promptly published in the press), but the situation is complicated by the growing tension between North Korea and Malaysia. The parties have accused each other of involvement, although they and others have reasonable suspicions related to the fact that, formally, the body has not been recognized by anyone, and according to documents is a citizen of North Korea – Kim Chol. Accordingly, the DPRK authorities have requested the body, and declared that an autopsy conducted without them is illegal and immoral, but the Malaysian authorities claim that their laws have priority, and therefore they have the right both in conducting the autopsy and releasing the body to the relatives as soon as Kim Jong-nam’s identity will be confirmed. In addition, the Malaysian authorities fear that if DPRK gets hold of the body, it may be subjected to mockery.

The second problem stems from the fact that the Malaysian authorities are “digging” the track of four North Koreans who left the country on the day of the murder, and, judging by the surveillance cameras were not far from the place of the assassination. True, although originally the ‘killers’ themselves said that after the attack they went to have fun in the company of men, that advised them, the coincidence at least deserves working through this version, especially since the foursome was accompanied by the Second Secretary of the Embassy, Hyun Gwang Song, and airline officer of Air Koryo – Uk Il Kim.

On February 22, they were called in for questioning (the South Korean press has already stated that they believe them to be the suspects and that there is evidence, but so far it is not so), however, the Northerners have vehemently declined, and now the two of them have taken refuge in the embassy. Consequently, the Malaysian investigation, of course, has only become more suspicious, especially when the South Korean party said that Hyun is from North Korea’s military intelligence.

In response, Ambassador Kang Chol made a number of statements, which essentially boils down to the following: firstly, there is no Kim Jong-nam, simply, a “citizen with a DPRK diplomatic passport prior to boarding the aircraft was in a state of shock and died on the way to the hospital.” Secondly, charges against Pyongyang of murdering its own citizen is absurd, and the purpose of such collusion is to compromise DPRK’s honor thereby diverting world attention from the scandal of the South Korean President Park Geun-hye and extending her agony. Thirdly, Kang Chol accused Malaysia and South Korea of ​​conspiring and in advance expressed distrust of the investigation results.

Later, the North Korean news agency KCNA and the committee of lawyers joined the discussion. North Korea even called for a joint investigation, but this proposal was rejected. In Kuala Lumpur, such statements were called a collection of misconceptions, lies and half-truths, the allegations made by the North were called an affront, and the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak not only expressed his full confidence in the clarity of the investigation conducted by the local police, but also described Kang Chol’s behavior as “impolite from the diplomatic point of view.” In protest, the Ambassador of Malaysia in North Korea was recalled from Pyongyang and tough statements were made by a number of politicians and ministers.

It has become obvious that the parties have already crossed the line, where it is possible, “to put on the brakes” and wind back, and the Malaysian government seems to be considering a package of measures in response to the “defiant behavior of DPRK representatives” and has hinted that it may go so far as even the severance of diplomatic relations existing between the two countries since 1973. If the Malaysian government will stand on principle, it will be hard for it to give up the North Korean track, even if there are facts against it.

In parallel with this aggravation, Seoul is doing everything to portray Pyongyang as guilty and to attract maximum attention to the case. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of South Korea, Yun Byung-Se said that if Pyongyang is confirmed to be behind this crime, the international community will consider it as a terrorist act organized at the state level, violating the sovereignty of Malaysia, and will have an impact on the decision of the EU countries to take further sanctions against Pyongyang.

On February 24, a representative of the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs urged the international community to respond to North Korea decisively – use of chemical weapons of mass destruction at any time and in any place, is a violation of the relevant international agreements. Even despite the fact that there are no other affected parties, and the check carried out by the authorities found no other traces of the substance.

Earlier, on February 21, the acting President of South Korea, Hwang Kyo-ahn, instructed the authorities concerned to check the readiness for possible North Korean provocations, pointing to the possibility of North Korea carrying out terrorist attacks. Back, on February 15, a representative from the Paryn Ha Tae Kyung Party said that two men had entered South Korea, whose purpose was killing North Korean refugees, and stated that one of their main targets could be Tae Yeon Ho, who immediately after this “temporarily ceased his public activities.” This decision was made by the National Intelligence Service, explaining that the secret services usually take such measures when receiving information about a specific order of liquidation.

Well, “the use of chemical weapons” has added to North Korea’s demonization, theoretically allowing not only to return North Korea to the list of countries sponsoring terrorism, but also to play the “Iraqi card” and start demanding from the Pyongyang regime, that it prove its lack of dangerous weapons of mass destruction – with very predictable consequences. This point is very important against the background that after the North Korean launch of a new type of missile, not only in Washington, there are discussions about the various response options, and the image of the mad tyrant, killing brothers with weapons of mass destruction is a good argument in favor of dealing with such a leader with maximum speed and severity.

Konstantin Asmolov, PhD in History, Leading Research Fellow at the Center for Korean Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.