A judge in Malaysia has ruled that two women accused of assassinating the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un can go ahead.
The women must begin to enter their defence in the case of the murder of Kim Jong-nam, in a hearing which the pair’s supporters had hoped would see them acquitted.
Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25, and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, 29, are accused of smearing VX nerve agent on Kim’s face in an airport terminal in Kuala Lumpur.
The women have said they thought they were taking part in a prank for a TV show.
They are the only two suspects in custody and face the death penalty if convicted.
Judge Azmi Ariffin told Shah Alam High Court it can be inferred from evidence presented in court that there was a ‘well-planned conspiracy’ between the two women and four North Korean suspects at large to kill Kim ‘systemically’.
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He said he ‘cannot rule out that this could be a political assassination’, but noted there is no concrete evidence to support this.
He called for them to enter their defence after reading his ruling for more than two hours. The defence phase of the trial is expected to last months.
According to the case presented so far, the four men known to Aisyah and Huong by code names recruited and trained the two women to accost strangers in a similar fashion to the day they attacked Kim, and they provided the women with the banned chemical weapon that they smeared on his face.
Airport security footage shown in court captured the moment of the attack and prosecutors also said the camera images linked the women to the four male suspects.
Shortly after Kim arrived at the airport, Huong was seen approaching him, clasping her hands on his face from behind and then fleeing.
Another blurred figure was also seen running away from Kim and a police investigator testified that it was Aisyah.
Kim died within two hours of the attack.
Defence lawyers have said the prosecution failed to show the two women had any intention to kill – key to establishing they are guilty of murder.
But the judge said their intention to kill can be inferred from targeting Kim’s eyes, where the nerve agent would penetrate faster. He said that evidence pointed to a ‘simultaneous act’ by the women.