ReutersKUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) — Ri Jong Chol, a North Korean arrested in the probe into last week’s murder of the half-brother of the isolated state’s leader, lived in Malaysia for more than three years without working at the company registered on his employment permit or receiving a salary.
Ri, 47, had a Malaysian work visa that showed he was an employee of Tombo Enterprise. But the owner of the company said he never worked a day there or drew a salary from the small herbal medicine firm.
Chong Ah Kow said he facilitated Ri’s working visa by stating in supporting documents that he was a product development manager in the company’s IT department earning 5,500 ringgit ($1,230) per month. The visa was renewed once, he said, in June 2016.
“It was just a formality, just documents, I never paid him,” Chong, a Malaysian, said in an interview. “I don’t know how he survives here. I don’t know how he gets money.”
Chong, a frequent traveler to North Korea, said he was just trying to “help out” Ri. He has been interviewed by police and told Reuters he was ready to face any consequences from submitting false information to the government.
Chong, who has remained friends with Ri, said the North Korean lived with his wife and two children in Kuala Lumpur.
Reuters could not ascertain if Ri had any other employment or source of income. Police could not be reached for comment to explain how Ri supported his family in Malaysia.
Ri has been arrested as a key suspect in the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un. Police have not specified what role he may have played in last week’s brazen killing at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
Reuters was unable to find out whether Ri has a lawyer or to contact his wife or his daughter. Efforts to contact the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur were also unsuccessful.
Chong said Ri rented an apartment in Kuchai Lama, a middle-class Kuala Lumpur suburb. Three-bedroom apartments in the neighborhood typically rent for about 1,500-2,000 ringgit ($337-449) per month, according to property websites.
Ri’s daughter studies at HELP University, a fee-paying private college in a western Kuala Lumpur suburb that bestowed an honorary doctorate in economics on Kim Jong Un in 2013 for his “untiring efforts for the education of the country and the well-being of the people.”
The university has confirmed she is a student there.
Chong said he and Ri met in 2013 when the North Korean came to him in Kuala Lumpur, and said he was related to the inventor of a mushroom extract with anti-cancer effects. Chong said he has visited North Korea about 10 times and admires the country for its culture.