Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, reportedly met with an American intelligence agent just days before he was killed with the nerve agent VX in Kuala Lumpur International Airport in February 2017.
The Malaysian court hearing the case against two women who are accused of murdering Kim Jong-nam heard this week that he travelled to the resort island of Langkawi and met with a Korean-American agent on February 9.
Wan Azirul Nizam, who is heading the investigation, told the court that police have not been able to identify the agent.
He was, however, able to confirm that Mr Kim had been carrying $138,000 in cash in his backpack when he was attacked at the airport four days later , while an analysis of his laptop computer has revealed that a memory device was inserted into the computer several times on February 9. The device has not been recovered.
"We know that Mr Kim has in the past spoken with South Korean intelligence officials and that he was under Chinese protection while he was in China and Macau, so it should not be a surprise that he was also talking to the Americans", said Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor at Tokyo’s Waseda University and an authority on North Korea’s ruling family.
"The Americans want all the intelligence that they can gather on Kim Jong-un to determine the strength of his power base, whether he faces any internal dissent, who are the up-and-coming individuals in the regime and who is on the way out", he told The Telegraph.
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"They are also constantly trying to figure out whether he is willing to negotiate on some issues or whether he is standing fast, and even whether he is simply dangerous.
Kim Jong-nam, half-brother of Kim Jong-un, in pictures
"But they will be particularly interested in any rumours of a coup against Mr Kim," he added.
There have been hints of unrest in the military in recent weeks, Mr Shigemura added, after it was decided to alter the official date of the creation of the North Korean armed forces so that it falls after the founding of the Korean Workers’ Party.
The inference is that Mr Kim is breaking away from his father’s "military first" policy in favour of the party, while there have also been rumours of senior military officials being purged.
Analysts believe that an internal uprising would be the most "legitimate" way of removing Kim Jong-un as dictator, with China reportedly perceiving Kim Jong-nam as a potential heir to the dynasty.
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"Chinese officials have said that quite openly in the past and it is likely that the US had reached a similar conclusion", Mr Shigemura said.
The case against Doan Thi Huong, a 29-year-old Vietnamese national, and Siti Aisyah, 25, from Indonesia, continues.
Both women have pleaded not guilty and claim they were asked by a group of men to take part in a prank for a television programme.
They were paid to approach Mr Kim in the airport’s departure area and wipe his face, but claim they were not aware they were applying a lethal nerve agent.
The four men quickly left Malaysia and later flew to North Korea. Pyongyang has denied any involvement in the case.