Malaysia court to deliver key ruling on N. Korea assassination

A Malaysian judge will Thursday deliver a key ruling in the trial of two women accused of the assassination of the half-brother of North Korea's leader, with their families insisting they are innocent and should be set free.

The court will decide whether there is sufficient evidence to support a murder charge against Siti Aisyah from Indonesia and Doan Thi Huong from Vietnam, who allegedly killed Kim Jong Nam using VX nerve agent in a brazen hit at Kuala Lumpur airport.

If there is, the trial -- which started in October last year and has heard from dozens of prosecution witnesses -- will continue with the court hearing the women's defence. But if not, the judge may acquit the pair.

The women arrived at the court in Sham Alam, outside Kuala Lumpur, under heavy police guard and wearing bulletproof vests, and were ushered past a pack of waiting journalists.

Their families insist the women were tricked into carrying out the Cold War-style killing that shocked the world, and are hopeful they will be acquitted, although state prosecutors believe they have a strong case.

Huong "could never be a killer as she had always been a charming, hard-working girl", Doan Van Thanh, the Vietnamese suspect's father, told AFP at his home south of Hanoi.

- 'Good kid' -

Aisyah's father, Asria, told reporters in the family village on Indonesia's Java island that he hoped she would be freed.

"I've been waiting for her return for so long," he said. "It's impossible that (she) committed murder. My daughter is a good kid -- why would she murder anyone?"

The women are accused of killing Kim Jong Nam -- once seen as an heir to the North Korean leadership and a rival to current leader Kim Jong Un -- by smearing toxic VX on his face in February last year as he waited to board a flight to Macau.

The pair, who face death by hanging if found guilty, claim they fell victim to an elaborate plot hatched by North Korean agents and believed they were taking part in a prank for a reality TV show when they attacked Kim with a chemical classified as a weapon of mass destruction.

But describing the murder as like something out of a James Bond movie, prosecutors have argued the pair were well-trained assassins who knew exactly what they were doing.

During months of hearings, the court has been told that four North Koreans -- who are formally accused alongside the women of committing the murder -- recruited the pair and were the masterminds, providing them with the poison on the day of the murder before flying out of the country.

- Scapegoats -

The trial has seen CCTV footage of Huong, 30, coming up behind Kim as he waited to check in for his flight to Macau, and clasping her hands on his face. Traces of VX were also found on the women's clothing.

But the defence teams have argued the pair are simply scapegoats, with the authorities unable to catch the real killers, the North Koreans, and therefore desperate to secure some kind of conviction in the case.

Despite the evidence against them, the lawyers are confident the pair will be acquitted of murder. They insist that prosecutors have not shown they intended to kill Kim, who had been living in exile for a decade since falling out of favour with the North's ruling family.

If one or both of the women are cleared, they will not necessarily walk free immediately. Prosecutors could seek to appeal the ruling, and the authorities could still hold them over alleged visa violations.

South Korea has blamed the North for ordering the assassination, an accusation that Pyongyang has repeatedly rejected.

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