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Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
Evidence presented in the trial of two women accused of last year’s murder of Kim Jong Nam is “credible,” a Malaysian high court judge ruled Thursday afternoon, meaning the months-long case will continue.
Siti Aisyah, 26, from Indonesia, and Doan Thi Huong, 29, from Vietnam, both arrived at the Shah Alam courthouse in Kuala Lumpur before 0900 local time to hear the ruling from the judge, which came just before 1300 local time.
They will now have have to mount a defense.
“I am satisfied that all the ingredients of the charge (sic) against the accused persons that need to be prove (sic) has been established by the prosecution,” High Court Judge Azmi bin Ariffin said in his ruling, a copy of which was obtained by NK News.
The judge said he had carefully considered evidence and arguments from witnesses and from both the prosecution and defense since the first part of the trial began late last year, concluding that he found the evidence “credible for the court to safely accept, give due weight and act upon.”
“I must accordingly find that the prosecution had made out a prima facie case against the accused persons and I must therefore call upon them to enter their defence on their respective charges,” he continued.
The two women’s defense team had previously hoped the judge would rule the prosecution’s evidence in the case insufficient following their presentation in the first part of the trial, which would have led to their acquittal pending further appeals.
But with today’s ruling, the defense will now have to present their case for innocence to avoid a mandatory death sentence for the two women in case they are found guilty of murder.
The two women will also testify in their defense, the Associated Press reported.
The ruling also means Aisyah and Doan will remain in custody as the trial continues, with defense hearings scheduled to take place from November until February.
News identifying Kim as the North Korean leader’s brother broke the following day, with reports suggesting that South Korean officials were mistakenly contacted by Malaysian authorities to help identify the deceased man.
Kim Jong Nam was at the time of his death traveling under the name Kim Chol using a North Korean passport, and while a diplomatic dispute between Malaysia and the DPRK did ensue following the incident, North Korean officials still have not acknowledged Kim’s identity.
Aisyah and Doan were arrested by police in Kuala Lumpur within days, while a number of North Korean suspects were also pursued.
Eight North Korean men were initially sought by police in connection to Kim’s death, though four fled Malaysia on the day of the killing – before news of Kim’s death broke.
Of the remaining four North Koreans, one man was arrested but later released due to lack of evidence and deported, while the other three went into hiding until late March when they were allowed to return to North Korea after eventually making statements to police.
Aisyah and Doan have claimed to have been recruited by North Korean agents to participate in recorded “pranks” weeks before the February 13 incident.
The two reportedly received money for a number of routine “pranks” in Malaysia and Cambodia similar to the smearing of chemicals on Kim Jong Nam’s face, directed by North Korean agents posing under false identities – though previously the women used lotion or even hot sauce instead of VX components.
Malaysian prosecutors, too, later officially placed blame on four North Korean men for their roles in helping recruit the women and carry out the attack, but Aisyah and Doan are the only ones standing trial for the murder.
Their trial began last October, where the two women pleaded not guilty to murder charges and where prosecutors argued Aisyah and Doan were responsible for the murder with the help of the North Koreans who remained at-large.
Many problems appeared to arise, however, from the prosecution’s handling of evidence, having returned key evidence to North Korea following forensic inspection along with Kim Jong Nam’s body in late March.
The defense team for Aisyah and Doan will now have a chance to formally argue against this evidence before the court in the next part of the trial.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: file photo