Three North Koreans wanted for questioning over the murder of the estranged half-brother of their country’s leader returned home on Friday along with the body of victim Kim Jong Nam after Malaysia agreed a swap deal with the reclusive state.
Malaysian police investigating what U.S. and South Korean officials say was an assassination carried out by North Korean agents took statements from the three before they were allowed to leave the country, reports Reuters.
“We have obtained whatever we want from them…They have assisted us and they have been allowed to leave,” police chief Khalid Abu Bakar told a news conference in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, saying there were no grounds to hold the men.
Kim Jong Nam, the elder half-brother of the North’s young, unpredictable leader Kim Jong Un, was killed at Kuala Lumpur’s airport on Feb. 13 in a bizarre assassination using VX nerve agent, a chemical so lethal the U.N. has listed it as a weapon of mass destruction.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the remains of a North Korean citizen killed in Malaysia were returned to the North via Beijing along with “relevant” North Korean citizens.
Malaysian authorities released Kim’s body on Thursday in a deal that secured the release of nine Malaysian citizens held in Pyongyang after a drawn out diplomatic spat.
Malaysian police had named eight North Koreans they wanted to question in the case, including the three given safe passage to leave.
Television footage obtained by Reuters from Japanese media showed Hyon Kwang Song, the second secretary at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur, and Kim Uk Il, a North Korean state airline employee on the flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
The police chief confirmed they were accompanied by compatriot Ri Ji U, also known as James, who had been hiding with them at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysian prosecutors have charged two women – an Indonesian and a Vietnamese – with killing Kim Jong Nam, but South Korean and U.S. officials had regarded them as pawns in an operation carried out by North Korean agents.
Kim Jong Nam, who had been living in exile in the Chinese territory of Macau for several years, survived an attempt on his life in 2012, according to South Korean lawmakers.