Two women accused of murdering Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, officially pleaded not guilty at a Malaysian High Court on Monday.
The 29-year-old Vietnamese national Doan Thi Huong and the 25-year-old Indonesian national Siti Aisyah are accused of murdering Kim by smearing his face with the VX nerve agent at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) on February 13.
The Royal Malaysia Police (RMP) arrested Doan on February 15 and Siti on February 16 after the two were identified through CCTV footage of the attack.
The RMP later said that VX – an internationally recognized weapon of mass destruction – has been used in the murder.
Odorless and tasteless, VX is highly toxic: 10 milligrams is reportedly sufficient for skin contact to be fatal.
If found guilty the two could face the death penalty under Section 302 of Malaysia’s penal code.
The full trial – which is expected to run until November 30 – kicked off on Monday at Shah Alam High Court just outside Kuala Lumpur.
The defense maintains that the pair was duped into thinking they were taking part in a TV prank show, while the prosecution insists there is evidence of “common intention to kill the victim.”
Aisyah and Huong, along with four others, were charged with murder on March 1. The magistrate’s court in Sepang district twice deferred the prosecutors’ requests for the case to be moved to a higher court.
The case was then transferred to the Shah Alam High Court on May 30.
“We are fairly confident that at the end of trial, they will probably be acquitted,” Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, a lawyer representing Huong, said on Monday.
The lawyer told Channel NewsAsia that the prosecution would “call its witnesses and reveal the narrative” on Monday.
Four suspects in the case remain at large, however.
In-mid March Interpol issued a red notice on four male North Korean suspects linked to the murder of Kim – all are believed to have left Malaysia after the attack was carried out. Ri Jae Nam, O Jong Gil, Hong Song Hak and Ri Ji Hyon, are four of seven North Koreans who have so far been linked to the murder.
The defense has criticized the prosecution for failing to adequately cooperate with them.
At the time of his death, Kim Jong Nam had lived largely in exile, residing in the Chinese city-state of Macau and avoiding returning to North Korea.
The eldest son of the late DPRK leader Kim Jong Il, and the leader’s mistress, the actress Song Hye Rim, for almost a decade he was seen as the likely successor in the DPRK’s hereditary political system.
But Kim was believed to fallen out of favor with his father in 2001 after a widely publicized incident in which he tried to enter Japan using a fake passport. In his place, his half-brother Kim Jong Un rose to power.
After the incident, Kim Jong Nam developed a reputation as something of a playboy – but also as a critic of his family’s rule. In 2012, he told a Japanese journalist that he expected his brother to “fail” as North Korean leader, and called for economic reform.
Throughout today’s proceedings, he is being referred to, however, as “Kim Chol,” the name on his passport at the time of his death and the name used by North Korea, which has refused to acknowledge that the man killed was Kim Jong Un’s brother.
The whereabouts of Kim’s family remains unknown. Less than a month after the murder, a video emerged purporting to show his son, Kim Han Sol, saying he was in hiding – and that he had been helped by an organization calling itself Cheollima Civil Defense.
The group has given few details about their origins, and have claimed to have “helped many North Koreans” escape the DPRK.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: Andrea Schaffer’s Flickr
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