Suspect in Kim Jong Nam assassination active in China, report says

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Sept. 22 (UPI) — A North Korean man who was detained in Malaysia after the assassination of Kim Jong Nam is operating in China, according to a Japanese press report.

The Mainichi Shimbun reported Tuesday Ri Jong Chol, recently charged with violating U.S. North Korea sanctions by the Justice Department, continues to carry out North Korean missions in foreign territory, despite alleged violations and his suspected role in the murder of the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

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Ri could be enjoying exceptional privileges, according to the report. North Korean state-sanctioned agents are usually expected to leave their families behind. Ri may have been able to live outside North Korea with his wife and his daughter.

The U.S. papers filed in federal court in Washington on Sept. 11 accuse Ri of working with his daughter, Ri Yu Gyong, and Gan Chee Lim, a Malaysian national. Ri’s daughter has been previously identified by Al Jazeera as a student at a private college in western Kuala Lumpur.

Al Jazeera first reported evidence of Ri Jong Chol’s presence in China in 2019, two years after the assassination. The news network aired footage of Ri, 48, enjoying karaoke at an unidentified restaurant in China with his wife.

Malaysia released Ri in March 2017, citing lack of evidence of his involvement in the assassination. The suspect may have cultivated deep business roots in the country.

Ri worked as an agent for Pyongyang’s Korea Ponghwa General Trading Corp., and exported wholesale “soap noodles” used in soap bars. But Ri also may have acquired heavy machinery and satellite tracking software. Ri lived lavishly in Malaysia with his family, according to Al Jazeera’s 2019 investigation.

Katsuhisa Furukawa, a former member of the panel of experts of the United Nations Security Council Committee on North Korean sanctions, told the Mainichi Ri also appears to have been in contact with individuals who could be computer hackers. Ri could be a “key figure” in North Korean enterprises overseas, the report says.

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