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Published On: Wed, Mar 7th, 2018

US sanctions North Korea over dubious Kim Jong-nam VX nerve agent murder

Christof Lehmann (nsnbc) : The United States has imposed additional sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) a.k.a. North Korea, alleging Pyongyang’s involvement in the assassination of Kim Jong-nam, half-brother of DPRK leader Kim Jong-un, in Malaysia in 2017. The murderers, who according to their defense were tricked, allegedly used the VX nerve agent at Kuala Lumpur airport. Evidence from the alleged crime scene was gathered only two weeks after the incident and after tens of thousands could have freely accessed, contaminated and otherwise tampered with the crime scene.

Alleged perpetrators denied Consular access for days - Crime Scene Investigation happened 2 weeks after the fact, after thousands had access to the crime scene.

Alleged perpetrators denied Consular access for days – Crime Scene Investigation happened 2 weeks after the fact, after thousands had access to the crime scene.

Without providing evidence or referring to independently verifiable evidence, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert stated: “The United States determined under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991 (CBW Act) that the Government of North Korea used the chemical warfare agent VX to assassinate Kim Jong-nam, in the Kuala Lumpur airport.” Nauert did not explain either, “how the U.S. had determined” that the VX agent had been used by or on behalf of “Pyongyang”, or who in “Pyongyang” was responsible and how the alleged “guilt” had been “apportioned”.

The additional sanctions against Pyongyang came into effect on Monday, March 5, 2018, after the United States “determined” that the Pyongyang government was involved in Kim Jong-nam’s assassination. Nauert claimed Kim Jong-nam was killed with the banned chemical weapons agent VX on 13 February, 2017, when two women smeared his face with the substance at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia.

The State Department’s notice was published in the Federal Register. In it the State Department accused the North Korean leadership of using “chemical weapons in violation of international law or lethal chemical weapons against its own nationals.” The additional sanctions come after Washington, on February 23, 2018, announced its largest package of sanctions against Pyongyang to date. Ironically, these new sanctions came against the backdrop of the recent improvement in intra-Korean relations.

Malaysia_Kuala Lumpur_Kim Jong-Nam trial defendants Siti Aisyah (left from Indonesia) and Doan Thi Huong (right, from Vietnam)_Oct 2017Indonesian Siti Aisyah is accused with another woman, Doan Thi Huong, from Vietnam, of murdering Kim Jong Nam by smearing his face with liquid VX, a banned chemical weapon, at Kuala Lumpur airport on February 13 2017. Defense lawyers maintain the women thought they were playing pranks for a reality TV show, had been paid for playing similar pranks at shopping malls and airports elsewhere in the weeks before the killing and did not know they were poisoning Kim. They face the death penalty if convicted.

On February 8 2017, Siti Aisyah had been given 4,000 ringgit ($1,020) by Hong Song Hac, a North Korean, to buy tickets to Macau so that she could play pranks for a reality TV show, her lawyer, Gooi Soon Seng, told the court. However, Hong called her later that day to tell her that the trip was off. Gooi did not state whether Hong gave any reasons for the cancellation.

Malaysian lead police investigator Wan Azirul Nizam Che Wan Aziz could not confirm Gooi’s account but said text message records taken from Siti Aisyah’s mobile phone on February 8 showed her telling a friend that she was going to Macau for “shooting”. She later received five missed calls from Hong before picking up on the sixth, phone records showed.

Gooi has argued the killing was politically motivated, with many key suspects linked to the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur, suggesting his client was merely an unwitting pawn in the attack.  Siti Aisyah told police she was introduced to Hong on January 21, 2017, in Cambodia by another North Korean man named Ri Ji U, who had earlier hired her for a prank show. She told police she played three pranks at Phnom Penh airport before flying to Jakarta and then back to Malaysia in early February, Wan Azirul said. In Kuala Lumpur, she played 14 pranks at airports, hotels, shopping malls and a train station between January 5 and February 12 and was paid between $100 to $600 for each session, he said.

Wan Azirul could not confirm the pranks took place, citing a lack of video recordings and witnesses.  However, Gooi said posts on Siti Aisyah’s Facebook account and text messages she exchanged with friends, including one who teased her about being “a cute comedienne”, corroborated her version of events. Police have named both Ri and Hong as suspects in the case. Hong is among four North Koreans charged with the murder and who were caught on airport CCTV recordings fleeing the country on the day of the attack.

Re-enactment at Kuala Lumpur Airport – the crime scene that was never secured
Click on the image to enlarge.

Click on the image to enlarge.

In October 2017 the two women accused of killing Kim Jong-Nam were visiting the crime scene at Kuala Lumpur Airport in Malaysia as part of a re-enactment of the fatal attack. The entourage at Kuala Lumpur airport also included the prosecutors, defense lawyers and the judge hearing the murder trial. Re-enactments are common in Malaysian trials and are meant to give participants a better perspective of events as they unfolded.

High Court Judge Azmi Ariffin visited the check-in kiosk in the budget terminal where the two women alleged smeared VX nerve agent onto Kim Jong Nam’s face on February 13. Security footage shown previously during the trial showed the women, Siti Aisyah and Doan Thi Huong, rushing to restrooms afterward to wash their hands. Kim Jong-Nam, was murdered on February 13, at the budget terminal of Kuala Lumpurs main airport. Malaysian police claimed shortly after the incident that preliminary results from dry swabs indicated that Kim was killed with the XV nerve agent. A statement issued by police explicitly stressed that the XV agent is classified as a “weapon of mass destruction.

By the end of February 2017 the “weapons of mass destruction” narrative was further underpinned when the police forensic team, fire department and the Atomic Energy Licensing Board conducted a sweep at Kuala Lumpur Airport.

Sweep for evidence at Kuala Lumpur Airport conducted two weeks after incident

It must be reiterated that the sweep was only conducted at 1 a.m. on February 26 (1700 GMT on Feb. 25), as stated police. As far as nsnbc is informed, there were no North Korean or other credible, independent experts present during that seriously delayed sweep. The sweep adds to what one in cases of high-profile investigations could describe as shoddy investigative work with questionable chains of evidence, custody of evidence and other left-handed forensic and criminological work that invokes political posturing and scapegoating.

Moreover, the Royal Malaysia Police issued a statement, saying that the results of dry swab tests on the “death of a North Korean national” identified the chemical as “Ethyl S-2-Diisopropylaminoethyl Methylphosphonothiolate”, also known as “VX nerve agent”. The statement (full text here), however, didn’t explain anything about the chain of evidence, the methodology used during the post-mortem” and “dry swabs”. Instead, the statement explicitly underpinned that VX is “listed as a chemical weapon under schedule 1 of the chemical weapons act of 2005 and the chemical weapons convention of 1997.

Kim Jong-Nam_Kim Jong-Un_DPRK_KoreaSeveral international media would build on the “statement” stressing that North Korea was one of only 4 countries that had not signed the chemical weapons convention. Others, especially British media, quoted “unnamed Chinese government sources” as stating that an assassination of Kim Jong-Nam with the use of the VX nerve agent could be interpreted as “an act of war”.

However, it may also be noteworthy that Ethyl S-2-Diisopropylaminoethyl Methylphosphonothiolate a.k.a. VX was developed in the UK in the 1950s. It kills through a metabolic process that suffocates the victim by leading to muscle contractions, including contractions of muscles that are vital for the respiratory system. The United Nations classifies VX as “a weapon of mass destruction”.

Moreover, VX is less volatile than many other nerve agents and could have been used by applying it to a scarf or piece of cloth for then to wipe the victim’s skin or face with it. However the fact that XV isn’t very volatile and that the sweep was only conducted long after the fact makes it unlikely that any traces will be found, that the chain of evidence of any traces that may be discovered is highly questionable …. No re-enactment can change the fact that the “evidence” at the airport was retrieved about two weeks after the incident – a fact that had many ask the question how the court could accept this evidence at all.

Maybe the most “mysterious aspect” of the assination of Kim Jong-Nam, allegedly with “a weapon of mass destruction”, is  that the allegedly homicidal girls are Indonesian and Vietnamese. Indonesia has for years functioned as broker between North & South Korea. Kim Jong-Nam was clearly China’s man. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) under Kim Jong-Un, however, aimed at a Vietnamese (not Chinese) model for reforming/opening its economy. This was detailed in Kim Jong-Un’s 2013 New Year speech and among others reported in an in-depth article in nsnbc international (here).

These reform plans were obstructed in 2012 – 2013, by US, Chinese and Russian sanctions. If Pyongyang had ordered a hit on Kim Jong-Nam (pro Chinese), why assume they would be so incompetent as to pick an Indonesian and Vietnamese, in Malaysia? Does not make sense at all. Especially not when observers from the DPRK were denied access to observe the autopsy, the chain of evidence is questionable to say the very least, alleged perpetrators were kept isolated and denied consular access, and “the weapons of mass destruction” stick it brandished to threaten more sanctions against North Korea.

CH/L – nsnbc 07.03.2018

About the Author

- Dr. Christof Lehmann is the founder and editor of nsnbc. He is a psychologist and former independent political consultant on conflict, conflict resolution and a wide range of other political issues. In March 2013 he established nsnbc as a daily, independent, international on-line newspaper. He can be contacted at nsnbc international at

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