KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — North Korea’s ambassador to Malaysia denounced the country’s investigation into the death of the exiled half brother of North Korea’s ruler, calling it politically motivated and demanding a joint probe amid increasingly bitter exchanges between the once-friendly nations.
Malaysia responded with its own accusations, with a foreign ministry statement saying the ambassador’s comments were “culled from delusions, lies and half-truths.” Earlier Monday, Malaysia said it was recalling its ambassador to Pyongyang.
The diplomatic spat comes in the wake of the death last week of Kim Jong Nam, who died after apparently being poisoned in the Kuala Lumpur airport.
The attack spiraled into diplomatic fury when Malaysia refused to hand over Kim’s corpse to North Korean diplomats and proceeded with at least one autopsy over the diplomats’ objections.
“The investigation by the Malaysian police is not for the clarification of the cause of the death and search for the suspect, but it is out of the political aim,” North Korean Ambassador Kang Chol told reporters Monday, saying Malaysia was in collusion with South Korea, as Seoul tries to deflect attention from its own months-long political crisis.
Police “pinned the suspicion on us, and targeted the investigation against us,” Kang said, calling on Malaysia to work with North Korea in a joint investigation. Kang referred to the dead man as “Kim Chol,” the name on the passport found with Kim Jong Nam.
Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters later Monday that he had confidence in the objectivity of his country’s police and doctors.
Malaysia had no reason to “paint the North Koreans in a bad light,” he said, adding, “We expect them to understand that we apply the rule of law in Malaysia.”
Over the weekend, Kang said Malaysia may be “trying to conceal something,” an accusation that led the Malaysian foreign ministry to recall its ambassador to Pyongyang “for consultations” and summon Kang to a meeting.
Police have so far arrested four people carrying identity documents from North Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam. Those arrested include two women who were allegedly seen approaching Kim on Feb. 13 as he stood at a ticketing kiosk at the budget terminal of the Kuala Lumpur airport.
Surveillance video, obtained by Japan’s Fuji TV and often grainy and blurred, seems to show the two women approaching Kim Jong Nam from different directions that morning. One comes up behind him and appears to hold something over his mouth for a few seconds.
Then the women turn and calmly walk off in different directions. More video shows Kim, a long-estranged half-brother of North Korea’s ruler, walking up to airport workers and security officials, gesturing at his eyes and seemingly asking for help. He then walks alongside as they lead him to the airport clinic.
Fuji TV has not revealed how it acquired the video, which was taken by a series of security cameras as Kim arrived for a flight to Macau, where he had a home.
Kim, who was in his mid-40s, died shortly after the attack, en route to a hospital after suffering a seizure, Malaysian officials say.
Investigators are still looking for four North Korean men who arrived in Malaysia on different days beginning Jan. 31 and flew out the same day as the attack. The four were traveling on regular — not diplomatic — passports, Malaysia’s deputy national police chief, Noor Rashid Ibrahim, told reporters.
Indonesian officials said three of those men transited through Jakarta after the apparent assassination, leaving on a nighttime flight to Dubai.
Dubai police and the Dubai government media office did not immediately respond to requests for comment. State-owned airline Emirates declined to comment, citing policies on passenger confidentiality.
Police said they also want to question three other people. Noor Rashid said one was North Korean, but that police had not yet identified the other two. It was not clear if they were suspects or simply wanted for questioning.
Autopsy results on Kim Jong Nam could be released as early as Wednesday, said Health Minister S. Subramaniam.
Investigators want to speak to Kim Jong Nam’s next of kin to formally identify the body. He is believed to have two sons and a daughter with two women living in Beijing and Macau.
According to police, the Indonesian woman is a spa masseuse and the Malaysian man, a caterer, is believed to be her boyfriend. The Vietnamese woman works at an entertainment outlet and the North Korean man works in the information technology department of a Malaysian company, they said.
The Indonesian woman has told investigators that she was duped into thinking she was part of a comedy show prank.
The Malaysian foreign ministry said the government has kept the North Korean Embassy informed, telling them that because “the death occurred in Malaysian soil under mysterious circumstances, it is the responsibility of the Malaysian government to conduct an investigation to identify the cause of death.”
South Korea has been quick to blame North Korea for the death of Kim Jong Nam, who as the eldest son of the late dictator Kim Jong Il was once seen as the ruler-in-waiting of the isolated nation. However, he fell out of favor more than a decade ago, and has spent most of his time since then living in China or Southeast Asia.
The attack “showed the reckless and brutal nature of the North Korean government,” South Korean Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn said Monday during a National Security Council meeting.
Associated Press writers Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo, Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea, and Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to eliminate an erroneous reference to Indonesian officials saying a North Korean suspect flew from Jakarta to Bangkok after Kim Jong Nam died.