A North Korean national suspected of murdering the half-brother of the country’s leader says he has fallen victim to a “conspiracy” by Malaysian authorities, who seek to harm Pyongyang’s dignity.
Ri Jong-chol, who is among eight North Koreans accused of being behind the February assassination of Kim Jong-nam at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, made the comments to journalists outside Pyongyang’s embassy in Beijing, China, on Friday.
He was in the Chinese capital on his way back to North Korea after he was released by Malaysian officials, who cited insufficient evidence.
The 47-year-old suspect denied any involvement in the killing and accused Malaysia of using coercion to try to extract a confession from him.
Ri said Malaysian police had presented him with "fabricated evidence” and promised he would be rewarded with a comfortable life in the Southeast Asian country if he confessed.
The suspect said police had also threatened to kill his family after showing him pictures of his wife and two children in detention.
"These men kept telling me to admit to the crime, and if not, my whole family would be killed, and you too won't be safe. If you accept everything, you can live a good life in Malaysia,” said Ri, adding, "I realized that this is a conspiracy, plot, to try to damage the status and honor of the republic.”
Malaysian police arrested Ri back on February 17, four days after Kim Jong-nam— the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un — was murdered.
Ri declared that he was not at the airport on the day of the killing, and knew nothing about the accusation that his car had been used in the case.
Jong-nam was attacked by two female assailants as he was walking through the departure hall at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. He died en route to hospital.
His assassination, which, according to Malaysia was conducted with a banned toxic chemical, has sparked a diplomatic row between Kuala Lumpur and Pyongyang. The dispute has prompted Malaysia to recall its envoy to Pyongyang and cancel a visa-free travel deal with North Korea.
North Korean officials have demanded that Kim’s body be handed over and no autopsy be conducted on his body. Malaysia refused to turn the body over and went on to carry out an autopsy.
Pyongyang later accused Malaysia of being in cahoots with the North’s long-time adversary, South Korea.
Kim, who attended school in Russia and Switzerland, was a computer enthusiast and fluent Japanese speaker. After completing his overseas studies, he oversaw North Korea’s information technology policy. He fell from grace in 2001, however, and had been living in exile since 2003. He was reportedly an occasional critic of Pyongyang, advocating reform.