The North Korean suspect who was placed under police custody in Malaysia in connection with the murder of Kim Jong-nam has been released and his deportation process has commenced. Ri Jong-chol was freed on Friday (3 March) after law enforcement agencies said they did not have sufficient evidence to charge him.

The 46-year-old North Korean national left in a police convoy at about 9am local time in Sepang and was straight away taken to the Malaysian Immigration Department headquarters. Following the paperwork, Ri, an expert in chemistry, is likely to be deported as he does not possess necessary travel documents.

The suspect was arrested on 18 February – four days following the high profile assassination of Jong-nam, the outcast half brother of North Korea's Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un – on suspicion of being involved in the murder. The incident took place at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport setting off a diplomatic row between Malaysia and North Korea.

Ri, wearing a bullet-proof vest, was paraded out on the streets under heavy security with roads between the police station and the immigration building completely sealed.

"I do not know when he will be deported as they will need to sort out the travel documents," an unnamed senior police official told AFP news agency.

Ri is being released days after two female suspects – accused of carrying out the assassination by smearing some poisonous substances on Jong-nam's face – were charged with murder by a Malaysian magistrate court and could face death penalty.

Siti Aisyah
Ri Jong-chol is thought to be a chemical expert Royal Malaysia Police/Reuters