High Court orders Indonesian, Vietnamese charged with killing Kim Jong-nam to enter defence

Kenneth Tee

Vietnamese national Doan Thi Huong, who is on trial for the killing of Kim Jong-nam, is escorted by police as she arrives at the Shah Alam High Court August 16, 2018. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

SHAH ALAM, Aug 16 — Two women of the assassination of Kim Jong-nam, the older half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, were today ordered to enter their defence after the High Court here ruled the prosecution has established a prima facie case against them.

Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 26, and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, 29, will now have to prove their innocence against the murder charge under Section 302 of the Penal Code, which carries a mandatory death sentence upon conviction.

“I must accordingly find that the prosecution has established a prima facie and I must therefore call upon the accused to enter their defence,” High Court judge Datuk Azmi Ariffin said in his court ruling.

Doan, who wore a headscarf and a green baju kurung, appeared unperturbed while Siti, who was wearing a red baju kurung and a headscarf, had to be comforted after she broke down upon hearing the decision.

Both accused have agreed to testify under oath in court.

They pleaded not guilty and claimed they thought they were taking part in a TV prank show.

Siti and Doan were charged together with four others still at large with the murder of Kim Chol, the alias for 45-year-old Jong-nam, by smearing the latter’s face with the deadly VX nerve agent at the klia2 departure hall at 9am on February 13 last year.

Jong-nam is the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

The prosecution ended its closing arguments in June based on testimony from 34 witnesses.

The court fixed November 1, 5, 7-8, 12-13 and December 12-14 for Siti and January 7-10, 28-31 and February 18-19 for Doan to take the stand respectively.

During his two-hour-half ruling at the end of the prosecution team’s submission, Azmi said he “cannot rule out that this could be a political assassination”, but noted that there had been a “well-planned conspiracy” between the two women and the North Korean operatives despite the lack of evidence.

Azmi also said he was not convinced by the defence’s argument that it could have been a prank reality show, as there was no hidden crew and no attempt to bring the target in on the joke, as is usual in such programmes.

“The sole purpose of a prank is fun with no intention to cause any type of harm and the use of the word suggests that the act must get everyone laughing at the end, even the target,” he said.

He said evidence from surveillance footage showed both accused were captured during the moment of the attack and the pattern of attack was similar even though there was no evidence they knew each other or the deceased.

“It may be inferred that the accused knew the effect of the VX and their knowledge may have been gathered by the well-planned conspiracy involving the four North Korean suspects.

“The women targeted the deceased’s (Kim) eyes where the nerve agent would penetrate faster into his bloodstream before hurrying to separate washrooms on another level.

“I have no slightest doubt that their desperate act of rushing to the toilets was to solely decontaminate the poison on their hands,” Azmi added there was a sharp contrast in the conduct of both accused as they first seemed worried and tense before washing their hands and relaxed afterwards.

Separately, Doan’s lawyer, Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, said the defence was unhappy with the ruling but accepted it.

They will also seek the assistance of the Attorney-General under the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act 2002 to interview witnesses overseas.

“We have about eight to 10 witnesses and they will testify in court after the defence was called earlier.

“We still maintain the innocence of our client that she was duped into a prank and we are confident that she is able to withstand the cross-examination by the prosecution,” he said.

Indonesian ambassador to Malaysia, Rusdi Kirana, also said the republic’s embassy was saddened by the outcome but will abide to the court’s ruling.

“We will also support Siti fully throughout her defence trial with existing resources available to us,” he said when met at the side after the verdict.