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Malaysia said on Saturday that it would issue an arrest warrant for a North Korean diplomat if he refuses to cooperate with the investigation into the deadly attack on North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un’s exiled half brother. The investigation has unleashed a serious diplomatic fight between Malaysia and North Korea, a prime suspect in the February 13 killing of Kim Jong Nam at Kuala Lumpur’s airport.
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Friday’s revelation by Malaysian police that the banned chemical weapon VX nerve agent was used to kill Kim raised the stakes significantly in a case that has broad geopolitical implications. Experts say the nerve agent used in the attack was almost certainly produced in a sophisticated state weapons laboratory and is banned under an international treaty. But North Korea never signed that treaty, and has spent decades developing a complex chemical weapons program.
Kim was not an obvious political threat to his estranged half brother, Kim Jong Un. But he may have been seen as a potential rival in North Korea’s dynastic dictatorship, even though he had lived in exile for years. North Korea has denied any role in the attack. Malaysia said earlier in the week that Hyon Kwang Song, a second secretary at the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, was wanted for questioning. But authorities at the time acknowledged that he has diplomatic immunity and that they couldn’t compel him to appear.
On Saturday, Malaysia’s tone changed. Abdul Samah Mat, the police chief leading the investigation, said authorities would give the diplomat “reasonable” time to come forward. If he doesn’t, police will issue a notice compelling him to do so. “And if he failed to turn up … then we will go to the next step by getting a warrant of arrest from the court,” Abdul Samah told reporters.
Lawyer Sankara Nair, however, said diplomats have immunity privileges even in criminal cases. “If he is a Korean diplomat with a diplomatic passport, then he has immunity no matter a criminal case or otherwise,” he said. “Police can apply for a warrant, but it can easily be set aside by the embassy.” Malaysia hasn’t directly accused the North Korean government of being behind the attack, but officials have said four North Korean men provided two women with poison to carry it out.