KUALA LUMPUR: Could the VX nerve agent used to kill Kim Jong-nam have been brought into the country using a diplomatic pouch? Security experts say this could very well have been possible.
Universiti Malaya International and Strategic Studies Department senior lecturer Dr K.S. Balakrishnan said it was easy to assume that anything could be smuggled into any country in small quantities.
“Spy networks can do such things as they like to break laws,” he told the New Straits Times yesterday.
Institute of Strategic and International Studies Malaysia deputy chief executive Datuk Steven Wong concurred, saying diplomatic pouches would be secure against breakage or spillage.
“If (it is a) small quantity, it could even be put in a checked-in luggage or in a carry-on one, especially if it was (carried by) a diplomatic courier,” he said.
Echoing this was Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) director-general Hamrah Mohd Ali, who said it would be difficult for the authorities to detect the hazardous chemical if it was smuggled into the country in a small amount.
He added that the VX could even have been brought in on carry-on luggage.
“If it is more than 500ml, then the authorities might have stopped it (any liquid must be in containers of 100ml or less in carry-on luggage).
“But, what if they had put it in a 50ml shampoo bottle?
“If it was a radioactive substance and we had a detector (at that time), we might have been able to detect it.
“But, if it was chemical, we have to conduct laboratory tests to identify it.”
The security experts, however, said until the authorities established how VX was brought into the country, the use of a diplomatic pouch remained a speculation.
Security, crime and international affairs expert Professor Datuk Abdul Halim Sidek said VX could have been a concoction of various natural produce.
“It may appear non-lethal, but once it is mixed up as a concoction, it could become lethal,” he said.
While AELB monitors radiological and nuclear activities in the country, Hamrah said the National Authority for Chemical Weapons Convention (NACWC) had been established under Wisma Putra to regulate the Chemical Weapon Convention (CWC) in this country.
Malaysia signed the CWC on Jan 13, 1993, and ratified it on April 20, 2000.
NACWC works to ensure the implementation of CWC in facilitating and receiving international inspectors, data collection for the annual declaration to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and in issuing authorisation relating to activities regarding toxic chemicals.
Sources told the NST that foreign diplomats were normally excluded from Customs checks, and they would have embassy officials waiting to escort them upon arrival.
This, a source said, meant that diplomats would be given fast-lane access, where they were not subjected to the full screening that normal passengers would have to go through.
“Security agency officers also would usually try not to hassle diplomats as it would only get them into trouble.
“It had happened before where officers, who put diplomats through ‘trouble’, had official complaints lodged against them when all that they did was conduct normal checks.”
Another source said diplomatic pouches could come in any size
and form, and that diplomats did
not have to declare what they brought. Thus, there was no way to know what they were bringing with them.
Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar, on Feb 22, during a press conference on the assassination of Jong-nam, the exiled half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, revealed that police were looking for an Air Koryo employee identified as Kim Uk-il, 37, and North Korean diplomat Hyon Kwang-song, 44, to facilitate investigations.
The United States, in March in last year, imposed additional sanctions on North Korea, blacklisting seven individuals and 16 entities, including the country’s flag carrier, Air Koryo, for their links to weapons proliferation or foreign currency earnings for the regime.