UPDATE at 1346 GMT: The BBC is now reporting that Kim Jong Nam was “killed”, citing a source close to the Malaysian prime minister’s office.
UPDATE at 1304 GMT: An original version of this article said Kim Jong Nam had been “reportedly murdered”, reflecting reports in South Korean press. Since then, local police have denied this. The headline and lede have been changed to reflect this.
Kim Jong Nam, the oldest brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, has died in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian Criminal Investigation Department (CID) Director Mohmad Salleh confirmed on Tuesday.
“There’s no sign that suggests Kim was murdered,” Salleh told local media. “At the moment the police classifies this case as sudden death. We have to wait for the post-mortem report to determine the cause of death.”
South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency on Tuesday reported that Kim had been murdered, however, citing South Korean government sources.
Two female suspects are said to have attacked Kim at Kuala Lumpur Airport and escaped in a taxi, South Korea’s state-run KBS reported, citing a source.
The story was originally reported by South Korea’s TV Chosun, which said the incident took place at 9am on Monday and that Kim was murdered with “poisoned needles”.
Despite calls to Malaysia’s Federal Police, Kuala Lumpur Airport, and North and South Korea’s diplomatic representation in Malaysia, NK News has been unable to get confirmation about the exact nature of the incident.
South Korean Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn, as well as the National Security Council (NSC), are known to have been informed of Kim’s alleged assassination, but South Korea’s Blue House was unable to immediately give comment on the issue when contacted by NK News around 9PM KST.
Kim Jong Nam was the eldest son of North Korea’s late leader Kim Jong Il and the leader’s mistress, the actress Song Hye Rim, and was, for almost a decade, seen as the likely successor in the DPRK’s hereditary political system. He was born in Pyongyang on May 10, 1971.
He was believed to fallen out of favor with his father in 2001 after a widely publicized incident in which he tried to enter Japan using a fake passport, purportedly so he could visit Tokyo Disneyland with his family. In his place, his half-brother Kim Jong Un rose to power.
After the incident, Kim Jong Nam was believed to have lived in semi-exile in China and Macau, and developed a reputation as something of a playboy – but also as a critic of his family’s rule.
In 2012, he told a Japanese journalist that he expected his brother to “fail” as North Korean leader, and called for economic reforms in his home country.
In comments carried by Choson Ilbo, Kim called the dynastic succession “a joke to the outside world” and said that the country’s political system “will not last long.”
In an interview with Finnish TV in 2012, Kim Jong Nam’s son Kim Han-sol expressed regret about North Korea’s human rights situation and called for the reunification of the Peninsula.
If reports are to be believed, this is the most significant death of a member of North Korea’s ruling family since the death of Jang Song Thaek in 2013.
JH Ahn, Dagyum Ji, Hamish Macdonald, Chan Wei See, and Oliver Hotham contributed reporting