North Korean murder suspect says Malaysia in conspiracy to damage Pyongyang's honor

By Ben Blanchard
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North Korean national Ri Jong Chol is surrounded by media after his arrival at Beijing airport

North Korean national Ri Jong Chol (C) is surrounded by media after his arrival at Beijing airport, China, March 4, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

By Ben Blanchard

BEIJING (Reuters) - Ri Jong Chol, a suspect in the murder of the estranged half-brother of North Korea's leader, said in Beijing that he was a victim of a conspiracy by Malaysian authorities attempting to damage the honor of North Korea.

Ri, a North Korean, accused Malaysia of using coercion to try to extract a confession from him, in comments to reporters outside the North Korean embassy in Beijing early on Saturday.

Kim Jong Nam was murdered on Feb. 13 at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, after being assaulted by two women who Malaysian police believe smeared his face with VX, a chemical classified by the United Nations as a weapon of mass destruction.

The murder of Kim Jong Nam has soured relations between Malaysia and North Korea, which had maintained friendly ties for decades.

Ri said he was not at the airport on the day of the killing, and knew nothing about the accusation that his car was used in the case.

"I didn't go (to the airport), and I had no reason to go. I was just doing my work," he said.

Ri said he had worked in Malaysia trading ingredients needed for soap.

Ri was in Beijing on his way back to North Korea after Malaysia deported him on Friday.

He was met at Beijing's international airport early on Saturday by a swarm of South Korean and Japanese reporters, but he was whisked away from the chaotic scene by Chinese police before he was able to make any statement.

Outside the North Korean embassy, Ri told reporters that he was presented with false evidence in Malaysia, and police showed him pictures of his family in detention.

"I realized that this is a conspiracy, plot, to try to damage the status and honor of the republic," Ri said.

South Korean intelligence and U.S. officials say the murder was an assassination organized by North Korean agents.

Kim, who had been living in the Chinese territory of Macau under Beijing's protection, had spoken out publicly against his family's dynastic control of isolated, nuclear-armed North Korea.

(Additional reporting by Joseph Campbell, and Jack Kim in SEOUL; Writing by Ryan Woo; Editing by Alison Williams and Richard Pullin)

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