Days before he was killed by a toxic nerve agent, Kim Jong Nam, the brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, met with a U.S. intelligence official on a Malaysian island, a police official told courts on Jan. 29.
The police official's testimony seems to confirm a May 2017 report from The Asahi Shimbun, which described Kim Jong Nam meeting a Korean-American who Malaysian officials suspected was a U.S intelligence agent.
According to the report, the two met on Feb. 9 and Kim's computer showed a record of a thumb drive being inserted, which some have speculated was used to offload vital information to the suspected U.S. agent. The report includes a photo that purports to show the two meeting, though the suspected agent's face is cropped out. On Jan. 29, the police official seemed to confirm the encounter took place.
Security footage showing the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. (YouTube Screenshot)
Four days later, Kim was dead. Two women accused of killing Kim have said they thought they were pranking him for a reality-TV show.
Why was Kim meeting with US agents?
While reports about Kim's life say he was a gambler with no ambitions to rule North Korea, he would make sense as someone whom the U.S. — and even China — would want to groom and leverage to possibly remove Kim Jong Un from power.
At 34 years old, Kim Jong Un could lead North Korea for another three to five decades. While his leadership makes obvious its hostility to the U.S., he is also no fan of China.
Citing three sources, Nikkei Asian Review reported in August 2017 that top government officials in China and North Korea seriously considered a plot to remove Kim Jong Un in 2012, however the plot reportedly fell through and resulted in the dictator having his own uncle killed.
Unlike his predecessors, Kim Jong Un has never visited Beijing nor had Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Pyongyang. Kim Jong Un has never met with another head of state, and has increasingly been viewed as out of Beijing's control, while threatening the U.S. with nuclear weapons.
Kim Jong Un has effectively put a giant nuclear target on China's borders, and risks having his country overthrown and occupied by U.. troops. Kim also has had top officials with ties to China brutally assassinated with packs of dogs or anti-aircraft guns, according to reports.
As a result, both the U.S. and China have plenty of reason to wish for something to end Kim Jong Un's rule over North Korea. Because North Korea is ruled by the Kim family dynasty, Kim Jong Un could theoretically be replaced with another Kim in a relatively bloodless coup.
Such an opportunity may have proven too enticing for both the U.S. and China to pass up, and too risky for North Korea to ignore.
Kim family infighting becomes geopolitical
An anonymous source told South Korea's JoongAng Ilbo in November 2017 that Chinese authorities blocked a plot from seven North Korean assassins to enter the country and kill Kim Han Sol, the son of Kim Jong Nam.
Though North Korea denies any involvement in the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the same country that has worked to build up a nuclear arsenal while under the heaviest sanctions on earth might not think twice about offing a member of the Kim family to protect from coups orchestrated by outsiders.
Kim Han Sol, another legitimate Kim, now fears for his life as he represents the heir to a bloodline that could unseat one of the world's most brutal rulers.