KUALA LUMPUR, March 21 — Malaysia does not have enough experienced counter-espionage personnel to monitor each and every suspected spy that enters the country, said Deputy Home Minister Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed.
Refuting claims that Malaysia was unaware of suspected North Korean operatives in the country before the murder of Kim Jong-nam, he said the authorities had suspicions as to who the foreign spies were.
“One is not a good spy if their activities are obvious,” he told Malay Mail yesterday.
Nur Jazlan said the authorities could not take action until the foreign spy broke the law, and they did not have enough personnel with the experience to monitor these spies.
“Good spies don’t get caught easily,” he said.
Nur Jazlan said although Malaysia had Sections 124M and 124N of the Penal Code on espionage, the authorities still needed to track them and collect evidence to prove they were spies.
Section 124M says whoever by any means, directly or indirectly commits espionage shall be punished with imprisonment for life.
Section 124N states whoever attempts to commit espionage or prepares for it shall be punished with imprisonment up to 15 years.
“It is even more complicated if they are foreign nationals. That is why it needs to be managed behind the scenes,” he said, referring to the Jong-nam assassination.
Earlier, in his winding up speech in the Dewan Rakyat, Nur Jazlan said although the authorities were aware of spy operations in the country, they kept silent as such information was sensitive.
“We don’t make it public when we act on such matters,” he said in response to Pokok Sena MP Datuk Mahfuz Omar, who said the Home Ministry had failed to identify spies in the country in view of Jong-nam’s murder.
Nur Jazlan said it was unfair to say police were unaware of the presence of North Korean operatives.
“If police were not aware of them, we would not have identified the suspects so quickly and obtained an Interpol Red Notice for the arrest of four who are on the run,” he said.
Nur Jazlan maintained that though the authorities were aware of their existence in the country, they could not touch them if they had not committed any crime.
The four wanted under Interpol’s Red Notice are security agents Ri Jae-nam, 56, and O Jong-gil, 54, and government officials Ri Ji-hyon, 32, and Hong Song-Hac, 32.
Jong-nam died after two foreign women allegedly smeared what is believed to be the lethal nerve agent VX on his face.
Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25, and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, 29, were charged at the Sepang magistrate’s court on March 1 with murdering Jong-nam.