(EXCLUSIVE) Jong-nam's tattoos to aid identification process

Farrah Naz Karim And Aliza Shah

KUALA LUMPUR: Strong evidence, which could finally put an end to the dispute over whether it was really Kim Jong-nam who was assassinated in klia2 on Feb 13, has surfaced.

The evidence — tattoos on Jong-nam’s body that match his documented history — will enable investigators to draw direct links between the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and the body that has been lying in the Kuala Lumpur Hospital (HKL)’s morgue since Feb 15.

This critical secondary identifying evidence includes a dark single-ink tattoo on his stomach, depicting a man with oriental features, reeling in one of two Japanese carps.

Another tattoo that had been seen on Jong-nam that matches that with the body in question, is the one on his left upper arm.

Those who know Jong-nam would be able to tell what the intricate tattoo is.

The New Straits Times’ Special Probes Team, in its investigation into the question of the body’s formal identity, also learnt of other critical secondary identifiers listed, which, if they could be matched to Jong-nam, would rule out claims to the contrary.

The team, with the help of its Japanese contacts, traced these vital links to a Japanese journalist, who had supposedly known Jong-nam for more than

10 years and whom he had met countless times.

Reports identified her as Mizumi Fujita.

It was also reported that it was some time in 2013, that Jong-nam, who was at a club in the Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore, sent her a photograph of himself in the company of friends. The image was of him with his heavily-tattooed friends, posing for a picture without their shirts on. The tattoos visible on Jong-nam’s stomach and left arm matched those on the body in HKL.

Mizumi’s employer told the NST last night that they would revert to this newspaper on its request for an interview with her.

To a question, they said there should be no problems for the authorities investigating Jong-nam’s murder to seek Mizumi’s assistance.

Experts told the NST that in the event that Jong-nam’s next of kin failed to come forward to provide matching DNA samples for reasons that might include security, they could opt to identify Jong-nam based on specific and unique markings on his body. It is also for this reason that the NST chose to exercise discretion in withholding information on what the other critical secondary identifiers are, considering that they have yet to be seen publicly.

The NST also noted foreign reports’ in-depth analyses of a picture this newspaper front-paged on Feb 18, showing Jong-nam slumped in a seat at the klia2 clinic, where he had sought medical attention.

Some of the reports questioned whether it was really Jong-nam in the picture, as the tattoo on his stomach was not visible in the picture. The image showed an unconcious Jong-nam, in low-rise jeans, leaning back with the hem of his blue -collared Polo T-shirt pulled up just over above his navel.

Had his top been hiked up by another centimetre or so, the bottom part of the elaborate tattoo would have been slightly exposed. It would be the same if the left sleeve had been rolled up.

Japanese media analysing the NST’s photograph of Jong-nam also carried out a facial recognition analysis on it, against the 2013 photograph of Jong-nam in Singapore.

The result of the analysis on 36 feature points on his face, they said, matched Jong-nam’s.

The body is now now officially identified as “Kim Chol”. This is based on valid travel papers, including the diplomatic passport, found on him.

Experts with locus standi in handling identification procedures based on secondary identifiers told the NST that under the circumstances, the process would see his next of kin being interviewed via video-conference. He (or she) would then be asked specific questions on these identifiers.

Examples of these the questions could be: “How many tattoos does the deceased have?”, or “What image does he have on his xxx?” or “What mark is foundthere on his xxx?”.

The whole process would be officially documented.

When the next of kin answers these questions correctly, he or she will then be shown the deceased, to enable the final identification procedure.

“Strongly identified secondary identifiers will lead to a probability that is considered ‘almost certain’ and this is enough for the next of kin to make a positive identification of the deceased,” an expert with knowledge of the ongoing effort to formally identify the body told the NST.

He pointed out that there had been many precedents in the positive identification of the deceased through this process, with a recent case being the helicopter crash involving the late Rompin member of parliament Tan Sri Jamaluddin Jarjis and five others in April 2015. last year.

Authorities should have been able to count on Jong-nam’s dental records and official fingerprints, apart aside from the DNA of his next of kin, to officially identify him.

However, the NST was made to understand that investigators were stymied by the North Korean embassy’s refusal to release records of both of these primary identifiers.

On Wednesday, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said the North Korean embassy had not extended any cooperation requested by the police to facilitate investigation into the killing of Jong-nam.

At the moment, the fingerprints lifted off the deceased would only return that of Kim Chol’s.

Pyongyang has also maintained that the deceased is a North Korean known as Kim Chol.

Meanwhile, several forensic science experts that the team spoke to said DNA testing was not the only available means to confirming the identity of a deceased whose background is uncertain.

Associate professor Dr Zafarina Zainuddin said a match of several secondary identifiers on the deceased would suffice for the authorities to make a positive identification.

“In the case of Kim Jong-nam, a DNA sample is not necessary as the body is still perfectly recognisable. He can could be identified by his secondary identifiers such as his birthmarks, face, tattoos, fingerprints or dental records.” she said.

Another expert, Dr Geshina Ayu Mat Saat, said DNA testing would normally be the last resort in identifying a deceased.

“Before the DNA evidence is used, the criminal justice system will normally look at other primary and secondary evidence.”

Jong-nam was murdered on the morning of Feb 13 in what has been described as an elaborate and high-profile assassination. His assailants were two foreign women who were charged with his murder on Wednesday.

Seven other suspects, including those police said had engineered the murder plot, are still at large. on the loose.

They include the North Korean embassy’s second secretary.