April 29, 2017

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Kim Jong Nam

by Lee Chin Wee

HE SHIVERED. Night duties were the worst.

You’d think the scariest part of working in a morgue would be having to see dead bodies; but no, seeing dead bodies was fine. Corpses don’t hurt anyone – they just lie there limply in the storage area, waiting for their last rites and send-off.

No, the scariest part is when you don’t see a dead body when it’s supposed to be there. Because then, you have to figure out where it went – which means walking through deserted hospital corridors illuminated by fluorescent light, accompanied only by the gentle whirring of the air-conditioning.

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At that exact moment, the lights decided to flicker – briefly, but enough to make his hair stand on end. Stop scaring yourself, he thought. Already hard having to do extra duties after the break-in, now you still want to scared this scared that.

The North Koreans had to be mad. First, they used a chemical weapon to kill one of their people in broad daylight. Then, they claim that he died of a heart attack when everyone knows that’s rubbish. Then, they drive their embassy cars straight into the morgue and refuse to leave! What did they expect, that the Malaysian government would invite them in for teh and give them the body? Ridiculous.

That was a terrible day to be on guard duty, though.

He thinks that the North Koreans behaved like children. When they realised that standing outside the entrance and complaining to the duty officer wasn’t going to get them anywhere, they tried to distract the guards. He remembered how two North Koreans tried to distract the front desk guards by throwing a fit, then sending a third member round the back to find another entrance. Luckily, he just so happened to be taking a smoke break at that spot – the intruder had barely taken three steps towards the back door before he was ushered back to the carpark.

And don’t even start with the attempted break-in. He wasn’t on duty that night, but he’d heard from a friend that it was a complete farce. Three people dressed in all-black (possibly the three North Koreans who’d parked their cars outside the morgue) were caught on CCTV prying open the front gate and forcing their way into the morgue.

And here’s the kicker: After going through so much trouble to retrieve the body (and creating so much more work for hospital security), the North Koreans still dared to claim that the dead person isn’t Kim Jong Nam! He smirked. How can, when the hospital has done so many DNA and forensic tests?

There even were rumours that Kim’s son would be arriving in KL to identify and claim the corpse. The rumours were first spread a few weeks ago, but no one at the hospital has heard anything since. Perhaps it’s for the better – another assassination at the airport and yet another high-value North Korean dead body ending up in the mortuary would be a very bad idea.

Particularly now, with the media speculating that the Malaysian government was negotiating with the North Koreans to send the body back to their country. That would be a massive relief – hell, he’d pay for the transport fees himself if it meant not having to work overtime almost every day.

But will Malaysia agree to hand the corpse over? He recalled the Health Minister recently saying that the government would allow only Kim’s family members to claim his body. But the Minister also said, “the next of kin have not come forward to provide assistance on how the body is to be treated”.

But then, two days ago, Hassan was asked to drive Kim’s body from the hospital to the nearby funeral parlour. How come? No one said anything, but the staff suspected that preparation was being made to send it back to the North Koreans. But then Hassan received orders to transport the body back to the morgue.

Typical lah, our government. Left hand don’t know what the right hand is doing. If he had to do another month of additional night duty, he’d kill someone – just not a North Korean.

He smirked. Sometimes humour helped make time pass faster. Suddenly, his phone beeped – a short, sharp sound that cut straight through the uneasy silence in the morgue. He turned the screen on. The WhatsApp message was from Hassan: Bro, I kena driver duty again. Dis time they wan me to bring body bk to funeral parlour, den the news say that we returning the body to NK so they give us bk our people trapped there.

One dead body in exchange for nine Malaysians that the North Koreans were detaining illegally in their country? Seems very unfair, but it wasn’t his business to interfere in this kind of thing. If luck would have it, this might even be his last week doing extra night duty. Dreams do come true after all.

At that precise moment, the lights flickered again, then turned off. It seemed that power trips had a dark sense of humour.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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by Lee Chin Wee

The North Korean saga in Malaysia is still playing out 33 days after the murder of a Kim family member. This is part two of our murder mystery novel.

 

MALAYSIA’S top cop wrung his hands. How many times did he have to say that the body lying in the morgue is Kim Jong Nam?

Heck, even if he isn’t to be trusted, just read the news. When every single media outlet from the New York Times to the Yonhap News Agency is saying the same damn thing… Yet those North Koreans have the gall to say otherwise. How would they know? They’re in Pyongyang. Did they think he didn’t know how to verify the identity of a corpse??

Back in the office from yet another media conference, the Inspector-General settled down to yet another cup of kopi. What was he to do about the two pesky North Koreans from the embassy? The jokers had tried to force their way into the KL morgue, much to the consternation of the security guards. How in the world was he going to interview them about the murder if they refuse to leave the compound? Or the 1,000 North Koreans still working in Malaysia – what if they’re sleeper agents who will now come out of the woodwork? Hopefully not, because the foreign ministry just issued a directive barring 315 of them from leaving Malaysia…

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The situation was deteriorating, and fast. For heavens’ sake, Datuk Hishammuddin Hussein even spoke to the media the week before about the possibility of war with North Korea. War! With a rogue nation armed to the teeth with nuclear and conventional weapons? Not the wisest of ideas.

The Inspector-General shook his head. He knew that the visa arrangement should never have been agreed to. North Korean elites are always trouble, let alone the first-born son of Kim Jong-il. He groaned. And what of the 11 Malaysians held hostage in Pyongyang? The foreign ministry had better act soon, or else a complete diplomatic crisis would be on the cards. These North Koreans are barbarians!

He burped as he briefly entertained the idea of sending in a SWAT team. The foreign affairs minister would throw a fit, but how dare the suspects hide in their embassy? The sheer gall of planning a murder on Malaysian soil, using chemical weapons in an airport waiting area, and then fleeing back to the embassy where police couldn’t reach them. His blood boiled. To hell with diplomatic immunity.

What a bloody mess. It was barely a month since the murder happened, but it sure didn’t feel that way.

The Inspector-General recalled how he’d been interrupted from his lunch break on Feb 13, with the call that someone had collapsed in the KL International Airport. He was incredulous at first, irritated that someone would bother him over a routine case of heart attack. But as the investigations proceeded apace, it soon became clear that this was much more than an open-and-shut case.

It seemed as if answers only begot more questions. How did the North Koreans manage to smuggle VX toxin into Malaysia? Why in the world was Kim murdered? Was the North Korean government involved? If they were, what was their degree of involvement? Were his murderers really tricked into killing him, as they claimed?

He sank back into his chair. Even the days managing security for the Bersih protests and the 2014 General Elections didn’t compare to this. Strange, wasn’t it. It was easier to make sure 100,000 protesters didn’t come to blows with the opposition, compared to investigating the murder of a single man.

His secretary rapped on his door, derailing his train of thought. “Uh Sir? Media here again. For the three o’clock update, they’ll need you in the press briefing room soon.”

I’m really not paid enough for this. Sighing, he made his way to the briefing room. The media is just going to ask the usual questions, I’ll give the usual answers, they’ll demand more answers as usual, and I’ll tell them that the case is still ongoing – as usual. Why do we even bother with this charade?

The press update, as expected, was more of the same. Yes, the body is Kim Jong Nam’s. Yes, he died of acute respiratory and heart failure. No, cause of death cannot yet be confirmed. Yes, we suspect it’s some sort of nerve agent. Yes, a group of individuals tried to break into the KL morgue last week; no, we can’t tell you who they are, but we know who is responsible.

“Inspector-General, Sir, how do you respond to the North Korean ambassador’s remarks that the ‘Malaysian police investigation cannot be trusted’?”

“The ambassador is entitled to his opinion. But my men are professional and competent, and it is disappointing to see their work being criticised when the North Koreans have given us nothing but trouble so far.” He rolled his eyes. He’d be glad to see the back of the ambassador – the man was mouthing off about the investigations almost every day.

Worst of all, he still had no idea what to do with the body. It’s got to end up somewhere, maybe buried six feet under or put in a deep freezer where the North Koreans can’t steal it. Why doesn’t his son just come and take the damn thing with him back to Macau? Or… maybe he shouldn’t.

One dead body is more than enough, thank you very much.

 

This article is part of a series on the murder of Mr Kim Jong Nam. Read the other piece here:

  1. Fact Fiction: A North Korean murder mystery

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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by Bertha Henson and Lee Chin Wee

HIS left eye was twitching. He didn’t like it; something bad was going to happen. Maybe the two women in Macau were at each other’s throats. It was tough keeping a second wife and a mistress, not to mention wife Number 1 in Beijing. Throats… why was he thinking about throats? He touched his jowly chin. His left eye twitched again. Maybe it was the Malaysian dust. Or the haze.

Finally, he reached KLIA Terminal 2. He swung his legs out of the cab, careful to make sure that nothing had dropped out of his shoulder bag. He had been in KL since Feb 6, which made it a week-long trip. He was really slumming it, compared to his growing up days as a scion of the Kim dynasty. He wasn’t even boarding a premier airline for home; he was flying AirAsia.

Pampered.

Little General.

Nice schools in Switzerland.

Generous allowance.

It was great being a grandson of a strongman, donning a military uniform bearing the rank of a marshall at the age of seven. If only he wasn’t a bastard. Not that Ma didn’t try to convince Pa to make her a decent woman. She just gave up after six years of trying. Pa, after all, was worried that Grandpa wouldn’t make him his heir. He needn’t have worried at all…

He pulled his cap close to his face. He was worried about being recognised at the airport by the Japanese media which have been extremely good at tracking down his movements. He supposed it was because he spoke Japanese. He walked into the airport and looked around. So far so good. No one’s accosted him. So why was his eye still twitching? He rubbed it vigorously. When his vision cleared, he caught sight of someone familiar standing near the departure hall doors.

Could he be…? No, he can’t be. He was, as usual, being paranoid. He wasn’t in North Korea or some dangerous place. This was KL. It wasn’t as safe as Singapore, but safe enough.

He checked his North Korean passport which had his name as Kim Chol. Fake passports had always helped him except that one time in 2001 when he was caught trying to enter Japan so that he could be in Disneyland. He shook his head at the memory.

He was then 30. Now, he’s a pudgy 46-year-old with two wives, a mistress and six children, keeping a low profile and, hopefully, off the radar of the rest of his family.

What time was his flight? He looked up at the airport departure board.  Oh. Two more hours to kill.

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It seemed like time had stood still since Pa died. From managing accounts for Pa and the family and enjoying a huge allowance, he suddenly became a poor black sheep intended for the slaughterhouse.  It was good thinking on his part not to return for Pa’s funeral in December 2011. He had an inkling that his family wouldn’t want him around when Jong Un took over the torch. He was an embarrassment, and technically, as the eldest son, he could be seen as a contender for the throne.

It would have helped Jong Un, who had been anointed Crown Prince the year before, if he was out of the way – for good. He wished he hadn’t told Japan’s TV Asahi that he opposed having his family hold power for another generation. He had also said he had no objections to Jong Un taking over, but people only remembered one phrase and not the other. They didn’t even remember him saying that he didn’t have the aptitude to run the country because he was a “capitalist kid”.

With a shudder, he recalled the death of his cousin in February 1997.

Ri Il Nam was shot dead in front of his apartment lift in Seoul. It was that damned memoir he wrote the year before.

His eye twitched again when he recalled how he himself had been friendly with journalists in the past. A Japanese journalist had published a book of their correspondence even though he had pleaded with him to wait at least three years after Pa’s death. Instead, the book surfaced while Pa’s mourning period of 100 days wasn’t even over!

It wasn’t just Il Nam who had been gunned down. There was what happened to Uncle Jang Sang Thaek as well. You would have thought Jong Un would appreciate having such an experienced loyalist by his side. But no, he had him executed in late 2013 for treason!

Sigh. He had liked Uncle Jang and Aunty Kim Kyung Hee. He also liked their son, Yong Chol, who was the country’s ambassador to Malaysia. Until 2013. His half-brother really knew how to conduct a purge…

The time was 8 am. He made sure his cap was tilted down to shield his face, before starting toward the check-in counter. He glanced briefly over his shoulder – nothing. One could never be too careful. He remembered how, back in 2010, a North Korean agent had tried to kill him by staging a “hit-and-run accident” in China.

Thankfully, his time in Malaysia had gone by without incident. He was in front of an automated check-in terminal, only a few steps from the relative safety of Macau. All he needed to do now was to scan his passport, retrieve his plane tickets and board his flight.

He reached into his jacket pocket.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a young woman- she looked Malaysian, or Indonesian – reach toward him.

Probably someone who doesn’t know how to use the automated check-in terminals. He turned to help.

Her hands did not stop moving. Suddenly, he felt her fingers clamp firmly around his neck, forcing his face upwards. He gasped for breath.

The click-clack of heels slapping against the tiled floor could be heard. Must be someone running over to help me, he thought, as he struggled with his assailant. The sound of running grew louder.

Another woman dressed in a white shirt with some words on it and slim-fitting blue skirt, appeared by his side. A blur of white filled his vision, as he felt her hands grope his face. This time, the hands were oily – slick fingers worked their way over his eyes, nose, mouth. And just as fast as the attackers had struck, they melted back into the crowd without a trace.

This time, both eyes started twitching uncontrollably.

Something had been smeared on his face. And whatever it was, it wasn’t good. He could feel his heart palpitating; slamming against his rib cage.

He stumbled. His eyes stung, almost as if they were blistering. Information counter, he thought. I must get help.

He struggled towards the information counter, gesticulating at the counter staff. He felt himself being led somewhere. The airport clinic maybe? Gasping for air, he could barely make out anything that was going on around him. There was noise; lots of it. A siren.

“Hospital! Membawanya ke hospital!”

He felt himself being lifted up, then placed on an armchair. He felt his heart hammering, erratic but violent. He felt his chest crush down on itself.

His eyes stopped twitching.

 

Featured image by Pixabay user ronymichaud. (CC0 1.0)

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Black clock showing 8.30.

A GRAINY picture of an alleged Kim Jong Nam assassin has emerged. She sports a top that says “LOL” and was caught on camera at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2.

Malaysian authorities say that they have arrested a 28-year-old woman with a Vietnamese passport over the assassination of North Korean “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, and are still looking for four men and one woman. It is unclear if the woman arrested is the one on the camera footage.

Then North Korean officials tried to block the autopsy of the late Mr Kim. They wanted to claim the body to be repatriated to North Korea but Malaysia would have none of it, although they did not say whether they would send the body to Mr Kim’s family, who are in Macau.

Fatal accidents have fallen in 2016 in all categories except those involving the elderly, says the annual Road Traffic Situation report. Accidents involving elderly pedestrians shot up by 19.6 per cent, and elderly pedestrian fatalities were up by 21.7 per cent, with 16 of the 28 deaths happening while they were jaywalking.

Speeding violations fell by 7.8 per cent to 172,192 last year and speed-related accidents fell 10.4 per cent to 1,081. But the Traffic Police want to do more: New Average Speed Cameras that track a vehicle’s speed over a stretch of up to 5km will be deployed on Singapore’s roads to “shape” driver behaviour.

PM Lee Hsien Loong has weighed in on the Syonan Gallery naming spat, saying that “we cannot erase our history or bury the past” and that the gallery was a “reminder of a traumatic period in our history and the suffering our pioneers experienced when Singapore lost its freedom and even its name.”

Signs in front of the building have been modified to show the full name of the exhibit, which is Syonan Gallery: War and its Legacies.

Does the name ruffle feathers? Sure it does. That’s the point, isn’t it? To be constantly reminded and constantly uncomfortable with a dark spot in our past so that we take pains to avoid it in the future. Does it honour or commemorate the Japanese Occupation? Hardly.

Perhaps critics of the gallery name should go to hell, by which we mean another in-your-face exhibit – at Haw Par Villa. That exhibit, though also “offensively” named is certainly not a tribute to hell, but a warning against reckless behaviour and a pointer to good living. Don’t believe? Just ask your grandmother.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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