North Korean’s coercion claims won’t affect Jong-nam murder case, lawyers say

By Ida Lim and A. Ruban
North Korean national Ri Jong-chol stands behind the fence of the North Korean embassy compound in Beijing March 4, 2017. — Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, March 6 — A North Korean’s claims of facing coercion to confess while under Malaysian police custody is unlikely to affect the Kim Jong-nam murder case, lawyers have said.

Criminal lawyer Datuk Geethan Ram Vincent said the deported North Korean’s claim would not affect the case as he is not an accused in the murder of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un’s half-brother.

“Ri Jong-chol’s claim will not affect the case as he is not a suspect and at this stage may not even be a witness. So his claim will remain an allegation. The coercion attempt if any has no bearing on the case,” he told Malay Mail Online when contacted yesterday.

“With regards to legal action, it all depends. I personally doubt Malaysia will take any legal action,” he added.

Senior lawyer Datuk Seri Jahaberdeen Mohamed Yunoos said the coercion claim may see Ri’s statement being evaluated if the statement is used for a court case.

“As for the allegation of coercion by Ri Jong-chol, if the matter goes to court, and his statement is used in the proceedings, the credibility and voluntariness of the statement may come into question depending on whether the coercion point is canvassed,” he told Malay Mail Online when contacted yesterday.

In order for a statement recorded by the police to be used in court proceedings, it must first be shown that the statement was made voluntarily and not obtained by any coercion, intimidation, threat or promise or favours, he explained.

Jahaberdeen also said that it would be unlikely for Malaysia to sue Ri for defamation.

“I doubt if any legal action (in the context of suing) would be pursued by the Malaysian government against him or the North Korean government with regards to the coercion allegations. I think this will be dealt with in accordance with international diplomatic laws and diplomatic talks if that’s possible,” he said.

Criminal lawyer Salim Bashir Bhaskaran told Malay Mail Online that the North Korean’s claim would not affect the murder case, noting: “Not in anyway, his coercion claim cannot have an impact here, because he is not on trial.”

As for whether Malaysia may sue Ri for defamation, Salim said it is not really an issue here unless the Attorney-General’s Chambers decides otherwise.

When contacted, lawyer Andrew Khoo said Malaysia will simply have to continue its investigations as it was “always unlikely” that the North Korea government would seriously want to provide assistance.

Khoo also said Ri’s claims may lead to a further deterioration in relations between North Korea and Malaysia, but indicated that it would be best if Malaysia refrain from asking North Korea to stop playing up the claims.

“Unless his claims can be refuted with evidence, it is likely that Ri will continue to make allegations of ill-treatment, etc. while in detention and interrogation, and accuse the police of all sorts of misconduct. This will then be played up by the state-controlled DPRK media for propaganda purposes.  

“There is little that Malaysia can do to stop this from happening, and there is no point issuing threats to make them stop, because this would just play into their hands and prove their point.

Malaysian police have also refuted Ri’s claims that he was coerced to give a confession, with Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar reported yesterday by local daily The Star as saying that he was given the same treatment as other suspects in the case.

“We followed strict standard operating procedure in a murder investigation. The suspect was treated well,” Khalid was quoted saying.

Ri, who has been detained since his arrest on February 17, was deported and blacklisted on Friday.

Two women who were believed to have wiped the deadly VX nerve agent on Jong-nam’s face at the KLIA2 airport on February 13 have been charged this Wednesday with his murder.

Police are currently seeking six North Korean men to aid in investigations, including four who have left the country, an Air Koryo employee and North Korean embassy second secretary Hyon Kwang-song.