INDONESIAN police say they will investigate a North Korean restaurant over suspicions that it is being used by the reclusive state as a front for its spying activities.
Police spokesperson Sr. Comr. Argo Yuwono said on Sunday the police would work with the Foreign Ministry following a news report on the matter.
“We need to know first what their business is and who the owner is. There are different regulations for businesses owned by Indonesians and those owned by foreigner,” he said, as quoted by the Jakarta Post (via tribunnews.com).
He added the police would begin their probe by looking into the restaurant’s license.
Late last week, Malaysian newspaper The Star carried a story about the Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB), North Korea’s Intelligence Agency, operating in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia over the past two decades.
The paper quoted an intelligence source as saying that RGB agents were known to be operating in construction, textile factories, and restaurants in major Southeast Asian cities, including Jakarta.
The article came in wake of the reported assassination of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un, by North Korean operatives in Malaysia last Monday.
The source alleged that the room above the North Korean restaurant in Central Jakarta was used as an office for the RGB.
“They used the restaurants as a main front to conduct intelligence gathering and surveillance, targeting Japanese and South Korean politicians, diplomats, top corporate figures and businessmen who visited or were based in these countries,” the source said, as quoted by The Star.
The RGB, which is tasked with North Korea’s clandestine operations falls under the purview of the North Korean State Security Department or State Security Ministry, which reports directly to Kim Jong Un.
The intelligence agency, the source said, relied on the various industries to fund its activities, adding the RGB had previously been involved in trafficking drugs.
In 2003, authorities in Australia uncovered a plot by the agency to smuggle 125kg of heroin into the country via a commercial ship named Pong Su.
From the incident, Australian police told their Malaysian counterpart that the RGB used the Southeast Asian country’s main port in Klang, Selangor, as a transit point for the illicit shipment. The RGB had reportedly used freezers to conceal the drugs.
In the early 2000s, the RGB had used Malaysia as a destination to re-route prohibited chemicals, which were ingredients for nerve gas, to Pyongyang, the source said.
Kim Jong Nam died last Monday a short time after the attack in the departure hall of Kuala Lumpur International Airport, where he had been preparing to take a flight to Macau.
A CCTV footage purportedly showing the deadly assault on Jong Nam by a woman, who is believed to have wiped a fast-acting poison on his face, had been widely reported across the international media.
After the attack, Malaysian police detained four suspects – a Vietnamese woman, an Indonesian woman, a Malaysian man, and a North Korean man.
Authorities say the exact deadly chemical that was used to kill Jong Nam was still unknown as they were awaiting the toxicology and pathological test results which is expected within the next few days. A post-mortem was performed on Jong Nam’s body on Feb 15 at the Kuala Lumpur general hospital.
The killing has triggered a diplomatic spat between Malaysia and North Korea, which has opposed an autopsy and demanded that the body be handed over directly.
North Korea’s envoy to Malaysia on Monday said the police investigation into last week’s murder at Kuala Lumpur’s main airport could not be trusted, and insisted the victim was not Jong Nam.
Whereas Malaysian authorities have identified the victim as Kim Jong Nam, North Korean ambassador Kang Chol told reporters the embassy had only ever identified the victim as Kim Chol, based on passport carried by the dead man.
In response, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said the country has no reason to paint North Korea in a bad light and will be objective in its inquiry into the death.
“We have no reason why we want to do something to paint North Korea in a bad light, but we will be objective,” Najib said.
On Monday, Indonesian immigration official said at least three of four North Korean men wanted in connection with the murder of Kim Jong Nam caught a flight from Jakarta to Dubai on the evening of the attack.
Suspects Ri Jae Nam, Hong Song Hac, and Ri Ji Hyon flew from Jakarta to Dubai on Emirates flight EK0359 at 10.20 p.m. local time last Monday, immigration office spokesman Agung Sampurno told Reuters by text message. The details of the fourth suspect were unclear.
Malaysian police said on Sunday four North Korean suspects had fled Malaysia after the Feb 13 attack in Kuala Lumpur International Airport, without saying where they went.
Malaysian daily newspaper The Star reported the four men had made their way back to Pyongyang via Jakarta, Dubai, and Vladivostok in Russia.
Additional reporting by Reuters