The 2nd of October marked the start of one of the most infamous trials in Malaysia. Two women in their late twenties are accused of murdering Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korea’s supreme leader. Perhaps the most appalling assassination case of our time, the killing of Kim Jong-nam was the subject of a heated investigation. As this investigation progressed, the facts started to surface, and the story began to look more like a spy movie, rather than an actual, real-life event.
Who Was Kim Jong-nam?
Most people had not heard about this member of the North Korean dynasty up until the moment he died and intentionally so. Kim Jong-nam was born in 1971 as the first son of Kim Jong–il as the product of one of Kim Jong-il’s affairs. Wanting to keep his son’s existence a secret, Kim Jong-il hid him in a Pyongyang residence for a good portion of his childhood. Eventually, he went on to stay and study in Russia and Switzerland.
In the 1880s, Kim Jong-il went back to North Korea. Although he was a favorite among his siblings to succeed his father’s position, it was apparent that growing up in a different setting changed his mindset regarding North Korea’s politics, economy, and strict regulations. After the return to his home country, he started working closely with his father. The tipping point for him appeared to be his witnessing of the public execution of factory managers who were accused of stealing.
All of this culminated in 2001 when he was caught trying to enter Japan using a fake identity. Instead of going to a North Korean prison camp, Kim Jong-nam was allowed to reside outside the country. He stayed in Macau and Beijing, from where he managed his family’s billion-dollar-accounts. Kim Jong-nam was connected to some of North Korea’s illicit businesses: arms dealing, drug trafficking — the list goes on. The earnings from these activities are believed to fund the lavish lifestyle of the North Korean ‘first’ family.
Thankfully, Kim Jong-il had two other sons. Although Kim Jong-chul was older, he was too feminine for his father’s taste. Kim Jong-un, nonetheless, was just like his father, so despite him being only around 28 years old, he succeeded his father’s position in 2011.
Kim Jong-nam’s Murder on Camera
On February the 13th, earlier this year, Kim Jong-nam was at the Kuala Lumpur airport, headed for a self-checking station, where he was supposed to get his boarding pass. On his way, he was interrupted by two girls, the suspects in the aforementioned trial. One of them rubbed his face with a cloth, after which both of them left the scene. Kim Jong-nam proceeded to seek help from the police while beginning to sweat and drag his feet. The police took him to a clinic and called an ambulance. Unfortunately, he died on his way to the hospital.
The most bizarre part of this event is that it was caught on CCTV footage and is available for the whole world to see. There is no doubt that his death was a direct consequence of his encounter with the two girls, as well as the symptoms he displayed after it. It was, later on, found that the substance rubbed on Kim Jong-nam’s face was VX gas — a nerve agent so deadly that it’s considered a weapon of mass destruction.
The two suspects, Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong (28) and Indonesian Siti Aisyah (25), pleaded not guilty. Their version of the story is that they thought they were on a prank show. Apparently, in December 2016, the two of them were recruited to perform in a prank show for a nice amount of money. The videos of their pranks would be posted on YouTube, after which they would become famous and rich. Or so they were told by one of their handlers. Siti and Doan report that they had already performed the prank multiple times before the murder, using a harmless substance, in different locations. All the while, they were unsuspecting that their handlers were practicing for the grand finale.
Assassination as a Political Statement
Shortly after the murder, the four handlers were rumored to be North Korean agents, long gone before the police could catch them. North Korea, of course, denied it and insisted that Kim Jong-nam died due to his heart condition. Malaysia’s persisting investigation into the case worsened their relationship with North Korea, leading to the expulsion of the North Korean ambassador.
The conclusion of this tangled, chaotic event is that Kim Jong-un is likely the one who ordered the assassination. The fact that it’s his half-brother is quite irrelevant, seeing as Kim Jong-un was responsible for his own uncle’s execution in 2013. Kim Jong-nam was an obstacle for the supreme leader in many ways, so it is unsurprising that before his death, he had started looking to obtain a European citizenship. Some of Kim Jong-nam’s actions before his death indicate that he may have known what was coming.
The Mystery of Kim Jong-nam’s Murder
If it really was Kim Jong-un, then why would he do it so carelessly? This is a reasonable question to ask, considering the supreme leader’s plentiful resources. It seems as though Kim Jong-un intended for the whole world to see this assassination, to send his message: this is the fate of North Korean defectors. What’s more, there was no need to use the VX nerve agent, which is more potent than sarin. Kim Jong-un is likely flaunting his power, using his propaganda machine, providing the right amount of suspicion, while hiding behind a well-constructed network.
For now, there is no substantial evidence that any North Korean influence was involved in Kim Jong-nam’s death. The only suspects in the trial are the two girls, who may or may not have known what they were doing. If they are found guilty, they will receive the death penalty. We have yet to see how this trial will play out and if any new information will be revealed.