March 2 (UPI) -- A North Korean diplomat dispatched to Malaysia to investigate the death of Kim Jong Nam, half-brother to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, denied reports the man was assassinated with a deadly nerve agent and instead died of a heart attack.
The Malaysian government said Kim was killed when VX nerve agent was smeared on his face by two women who were later apprehended, though the North Koreans have denied the report and have yet to acknowledge any familial relation between the dead man and the North Korean leader.
The incident occurred at Kuala Lumpur airport on Feb. 13, when the two women approached Kim and smeared something on his face. A short time later he collapsed and later died en route to the hospital.
The women, one Vietnamese and one Indonesian, have said they did not intend to injure Kim, but were approached by someone and told the incident was part of a prank for a television show. They said they were unaware the substance was VX, a deadly nerve agent banned under international law.
The women have been charged by Malaysian authorities with Kim's death and could face the death penalty if convicted.
A third man from North Korea was also arrested, but Malaysian officials said earlier this week he would be deported back to North Korea because there was insufficient evidence to charge him with a crime.
Several other North Koreans who fled Malaysia on the day of Kim's death are also wanted for questioning by police.
The incident has caused a diplomatic rift between North Korea and Malaysia, one of the few nations to maintain friendly ties with the reclusive regime. Malaysian authorities on Thursday said they would suspend a visa waiver program for North Korean travelers effective next week, after which point North Koreans will need to apply for travel visas to enter the country.
Speaking outside the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Ri Tong Il, the country's former United Nations ambassador, questioned the validity of Malaysia's investigation into Kim's death. He called on Malaysian authorities to turn over samples of the chemical found on Kim's body to the international Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons for testing.
"If it is true that it was used, then the samples should be sent to the office of OPCW," Ri said. "In case it is proved by the two separate international laboratories, with the same conclusion, then they should come to identify who is the one that made it. Who is the one that brought it into Malaysia."
Kim, 46, who was living under Chinese protection in Macau, had previously called publicly for more open government in North Korea, and could have been viewed by his half-brother's regime as a threat to his power, making him a target for assassination. Pyongyang has denied the allegations, saying it is the target of an international smear campaign intended to delegitimize the Kim regime.
Ri cited Kim's family history of heart disease and said he was being treated for high blood pressure, making it more likely he died of a heart attack.