Kim Jong Nam murder: Vietnamese woman escapes gallows, to be freed in May after jail for lesser charge

SPH Brightcove Video
A Vietnamese woman accused of killing the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un escaped the death penalty on Monday, after Malaysian prosecutors dropped a murder charge against her.
Vietnamese national Doan Thi Huong (centre) arrives at the Shah Alam High Court escorted by Malaysian police women, on April 1, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

SHAH ALAM - The Vietnamese woman accused of murdering the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was sentenced to three years and four months' jail on Monday (April 1) after pleading guilty to a lesser charge.

Doan Thi Huong, 30, will likely be freed in May because her prison time could be reduced by a third due to good behaviour.

Her lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik told reporters in the Shah Alam High Court: "According to prison procedures, all prisoners are entitled to one-third remission (of their sentence). So by our calculations, she would be released on the 4th of May."

Huong escaped the death penalty after Malaysian prosecutors offered an alternative charge, under Section 324 of the Penal Code, of causing hurt. This charge carries a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison.

Wearing a headscarf and a white sweater, Huong looked on in disbelief and growing relief as the court proceedings unfolded. In a short statement through her translator, she thanked the court, the Attorney-General, prosecutors, lawyers and the Vietnamese government.

She told reporters that she would like to pursue acting and singing once she was freed. "I'm very happy. I want (to) sing and act."

Her lawyer told the court that she had been honest both on her reasons for coming to Malaysia and during police investigations.

"She is neither a criminal nor has a propensity to commit a crime," Mr Hisyam said, citing her background. Her father is a war veteran and a stall owner. She is the youngest of five children.

"However, she was naive and gullible," he said, adding that her weaknesses had been exploited to carry out the murder "under the camouflage of funny videos and pranks".

Prosecutor Muhamad Iskandar Ahmad had urged the court to take into account the seriousness of the offence and public interest of the case in sentencing.

"It's clear (from the airport CCTV) after the accused wiped the face of the deceased, she just walked off. From there, we can see the conduct of the accused," Mr Iskandar said.

Judge Azmi Ariffin called Huong a "very lucky person" as he pronounced the verdict. "First of all, Ms Doan, I must say that you are a very lucky person today.

"I say lucky because from a murder charge under Section 302 that comes with mandatory death penalty, the prosecution offered a charge under Section 324 with maximum sentence of only 10 years, with fine, whipping, or any two. However the Criminal Procedural Code says that female cannot be whipped, so a whipping sentence cannot be given."

The decision came two weeks after her co-accused, Indonesian Siti Aisyah, was unexpectedly released on March 11.

Huong had been accused alongside Ms Aisyah, 27, of killing Mr Kim Jong Nam by smearing VX nerve agent on his face at Kuala Lumpur airport in February 2017, in a brazen Cold War-style hit that shocked the world.

The women had denied murder, saying they believed they were taking part in a prank for a reality show and were tricked by North Korean agents into carrying out the hit.

The two women spent nearly two years in custody.

Huong had been scheduled to testify for the first time on March 12. However, the trial was postponed after the court found her to be "mentally and physically" unfit when she learnt that the application for her release was rejected.

Her lawyers accused the Malaysian government of "discrimination", as both women had put up a similar defence before Malaysia's High Court.

Reports said Indonesian government had lobbied hard for Ms Aisyah's release. A letter from Malaysia's Attorney-General Tommy Thomas to Indonesian Minister of Law and Human Rights Yasonna Laoly said the charges against Ms Aisyah were dropped after "taking into account the good relations" between the two countries.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.