According to the testimony of a Malaysian police official, Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, may have met with a U.S. intelligence official shortly before his assassination last February.
A report that coincided with investigating officer Wan Azirul Nizam Che Wan Aziz’s testimony supported these claims, and further added that forensic analysis of Kim’s computer showed a record of having had a thumbdrive inserted during the meeting, potentially indicating that Kim exchanged files of some sort with the individual purported to be a U.S. agent.
According to Wan, “there was a meeting between Kim Chol (Kim Jong Nam) and an American man, but the police had not been able to ascertain the man’s identity and whether or not he was a spy.”
These details were revealed during questioning from the defense attorneys representing the two women charged with Kim’s murder at the Kuala Lumpur airport. Siti Aisyah from Indonesia and Doan Thi Huong from Vietnam face the murder charges, though four other North Korean suspects managed to evade capture, in large part thanks to pressure levied by the North Korean government that led to a diplomatic row between the two states that lasted for weeks.
The two women claim they thought they were taking part in a reality TV show when smearing a chemical weapon known as VX on the mouth of the man that was once favored to lead North Korea, before a public embarrassment saw the mantle passed to his younger half-brother, Kim Jong Un. The women face the death penalty if convicted.
The use of VX, along with the apparent participation of a number of North Korean nationals, led many to believe that the attack came under orders from Kim Jong Un himself, who saw his older brother’s influence as a threat to his supremacy within the reclusive state. Further reports of assassination attempts on Kim Jong Nam’s son also seem to support the idea that North Korea’s ruler fears the possibility of a power struggle with other members of the Kim dynasty.
After leaving North Korea, Kim Jong Nam had made statements opposing some of Kim Jong Un’s policies, including his pursuit of nuclear arms at the expense of his people, and because he continued to garner respect among North Korean citizens, it is possible that foreign governments like the United States or China may have seen the elder Kim as a potentially better alternative to North Korea’s current ruler. Although speculative, it does seem likely that, if in power, Kim Jong Nam would have established a more diplomatically stable status quo, especially if aided by Western governments along the way.
However, there are some issues with the report provided by the assassination’s lead investigator that beg hard questions about the legitimacy of his statement. Wan was unable to recall the name of the hotel in which the meeting took place, for instance, or the name of the American man who participated in it.
“Come on, you have a total lapse in memory?” The defense attorney pressed Wan. “You say you investigated but you’ve forgotten everything? Which hotel? What was this investigation for, if it wasn’t related to this case?”
North Korea has simultaneously claimed to have had no involvement in the assassination, that Kim Jong Nam’s death was caused by heart attack, and even that the man killed was not Kim Jong Nam at all, depending on which representative of Kim’s regime is in front of a microphone. This layered approach to misinformation, not unlike a practice employed by the Russian government, creates confusion – allowing a loosely supported tale about U.S. intelligence operatives attempting to plan a coup to germinate in the global perception.
Whether or not the meeting did indeed take place, the North Korean government can now cite this testimony in support of their frequent claims of secret CIA assassination plots and, of course, the narrative that the United States is exercising undo influence over the internal affairs of foreign nations.
The trial is set to resume on Tuesday.
You can watch security camera footage of the assassination below:
Featured image courtesy of the Associated Press