Vietnamese dad of Kim murder suspect wants 'kind' daughter home

Jenny VAUGHAN
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Doan Van Thanh refuses to believe his 'affable and kind' daughter could murder anyone

Doan Van Thanh proudly displays diplomas and photos of his daughter at his home in rural Vietnam, hopeful she'll be freed from a jail in Malaysia where she's on trial for the murder of the North Korean leader's half-brother.

He refuses to believe that "affable and kind" Doan Thi Huong could kill anyone, in line with defence arguments that she was tricked into the assassination along with her co-accused, Indonesian Siti Aisyah.

"She was cheated," Thanh told AFP, his eyes bloodshot and his face weathered.

Huong and Siti have been behind bars since Kim Jong Nam was killed with the toxic VX nerve agent at a busy Kuala Lumpur airport in February 2017.

After months of hearings, a judge ruled Thursday there is enough evidence for the trial to proceed, dashing hopes of an acquittal.

"I love my daughter and miss her, but there's nothing I can do," said Thanh, 64, who works as a cleaner and parking lot attendant at a nearby market.

Huong, a former hair salon worker, left home after high school and spent a few years studying pharmacology and accounting in Hanoi.

She then moved to Malaysia, where like many Vietnamese migrant workers she hoped for a better life than the one on offer in her poor rice-farming village.

Her flashy fashion, foreign boyfriends and edgy hairstyles quickly sparked chatter among neighbours back home.

That gossip exploded after she was linked to Kim's murder, and videos quickly circulated of a woman who looks like her auditioning for the "Vietnam Idol" TV series.

Other unsubstantiated images showed the same young woman kissing a famous social media prankster on a popular YouTube channel.

Her apparent hunger for fame may have embroiled her in the shocking assassination that has grabbed global headlines.

Huong and Siti's lawyers say they believed they were taking part in a practical joke for a TV show, but prosecutors argue they acted with intent to kill.

Thanh is adamant that his 30-year-old daughter, who spent much of her youth going to church with him, is innocent.

"I'm very sad," he said, sitting in his house 130 kilometers (80 miles) southeast of Hanoi where Huong grew up.

- Seeking fair trial -

The two women are the only people in custody for Kim's death after four North Korean suspects implicated in the assassination fled Malaysia shortly after the killing.

The pair now could face death by hanging if found guilty.

Huong visited her village sporadically over the years, one of the last times in 2015 after her mother died of heart disease when Huong was just 27 years old.

"She cried and cried," her dad recalled, sitting next to his deceased wife's altar.

Huong has appeared sullen in her court appearances since her arrest and looked shocked and tearful Thursday as the judge handed down the ruling.

Thanh said the family was too poor to fly to Malaysia for the hearing and he has only been once to see his daughter who was handcuffed and surrounded by prison guards behind glass during the brief meeting earlier this year.

Huong's brother, one of five siblings, appealed for help for the family and said he hopes his sister will be treated fairly.

"Our family expects a fair trial by the Malaysian government," Doan Van Binh said.

The family will now have to wait months for the trial to wrap up, with the next session set for November, and are bracing for the possibility of a guilty verdict -- and the death sentence that could come with it.

"It will be unlucky if that happens, we of course don't want that. But then we'd have to accept it," Huong's stepmother Nguyen Thi Vy told AFP.