A Vietnamese woman on trial in Malaysia for the 2017 murder of the North Korean leader’s half-brother Kim Jong Nam was released from prison Friday, Reuters reported, following her pleading guilty to reduced charges in the case in April.
The release of 30-year-old Doan Thi Huong leaves Malaysia with no other suspects on trial in the high-profile case, which saw Kim Jong Nam die shortly after Huong and Indonesian suspect Siti Aisyah smeared separate parts of the VX nerve agent on his face in the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in early February 2017.
Huong’s lawyer Hisyam Teh told Reuters on Friday she would be flying back to Vietnam later in the day, over two years since her arrest just days after the murder.
Both women claimed to have been recruited by North Korean agents to participate in recorded “pranks” in the weeks before the February 13 incident, culminating in their actions involving Kim Jong Nam.
Though both were initially put on trial for murder – a charge which would have seen them receive a mandatory death sentence if convicted – both have now been released within a two-month period.
Siti Aisyah was suddenly freed on March 11 after Malaysian Attorney General/Public Prosecutor Tommy Tomas received a request for her release from the Indonesian Minister of Law and Human Rights.
The defense phase of Huong’s trial – set to begin that day – was delayed until April 1, as top Vietnamese officials ramped up efforts to secure a political release for her as well.
It appeared those efforts succeeded, as she was offered reduced charges of “voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous means,” which her lawyer said at the time would result in her release “in the first week of May.”
Huong’s lawyer told AFP on Friday that “the assassins have not been brought to justice,” referring to the North Korean agents believed to have masterminded the plan involving the two women.
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 – Ri Jong Chol – 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 making statements to police.
Siti Aisyah and Doan Thi Huong 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 the two women were the only ones to stand trial.
Their trial began in October 2017, where both pleaded not guilty to murder charges and where prosecutors argued they 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 items to North Korea following forensic inspection along with Kim Jong Nam’s body in late March 2017.
Interpol issued Red Notices in March for the four North Korean suspect who fled Malaysia on the day of the murder – Ri Jae Nam, O Jong Gil, Hong Song Hak and Ri Ji Hyon – having been identified by the Royal Malaysia Police (RMP).
Others the RMP identified included Kim Uk Il, an employee of North Korea’s national airline Air Koryo at the time, Hyon Kwang Song, a former staff member at the DPRK Embassy in Malaysia, and a man named Ri Ji U.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Royal Malaysia Police (left), Facebook of Kim Jong Nam (right)
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