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

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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

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, he told reporters outside the North Korea embassy in Beijing 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.

Ri was in Beijing en route back to North Korea after Malaysia deported him.

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

Outside the 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.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Joseph Campbell; Additional reporting by Jack Kim in SEOUL; Writing by Ryan Woo; Editing by Alison Williams)