Project Sandstone Report 8: Our Man in Malaysia: The Ri Jong Chol Files

Ri Jong Chol being taken into police custody in 2017. Courtesy of Newscom / Alamy Stock Photo, Photographer: BJ Warnick, Image ID: JPEEFD

Using data extracted from some of Ri Jong Chol's electronic devices, this report highlights the scope and scale of North Korea’s networks abroad and their roles in evading sanctions.

In 2017, a North Korean national named Ri Jong Chol was arrested in Malaysia over the murder of Kim Jong Nam in the Kuala Lumpur International Airport using a VX nerve agent. Shortly afterwards, Ri was released without being charged and subsequently deported. 

This report features an analysis of the data extracted from several of Ri’s electronic devices, which were confiscated by the Malaysian authorities after his arrest. The device data obtained by Malaysian authorities appears to span from 27 September 2016 until his arrest on 17 February 2017.

Analysis conducted for this report shows how Ri and his colleagues in a UN- and US-sanctioned company named Korea Singwang Economics and Trading worked with Chinese nationals to pay for goods and arrange for their shipment to North Korea. 

As such, this research helps to shed light on the scope and scale of North Korea’s networks abroad and their roles in evading multilateral and unilateral sanctions designed to arrest North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

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James Byrne

Former Director, OSIA

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Gary Somerville

Research Fellow

Open Source Intelligence and Analysis (OSIA)

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