Kim murder suspects make first appearance since arrest

Indonesian suspect Siti Aisyah on her way to court in Sepang yesterday, where she and Vietnamese suspect Doan Thi Huong were charged with Mr Kim Jong Nam's murder.
Indonesian suspect Siti Aisyah on her way to court in Sepang yesterday, where she and Vietnamese suspect Doan Thi Huong were charged with Mr Kim Jong Nam's murder.PHOTO: XINHUA

Both women taken under armed guard to hear murder charge in Malaysian court

Two women were yesterday charged in a Malaysian court with the murder of Mr Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korea's leader.

The offence carries the death penalty.

Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25, and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, 28, were brought under armed police escort to the Sepang court complex, not far from Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2, where Mr Kim was attacked on Feb 13.

This was the first time that they have appeared in public since they were arrested a fortnight ago.

Yesterday's brief hearing laid out the charges against them in the magistrate's court, and set a second mention date.

The next court date is scheduled for April 13, for the case to be transferred to the Shah Alam High Court. No pleas were recorded.

"I understand, but I am not guilty," said Huong, when the interpreter read out the charge to her.

Preliminary autopsy results show that Mr Kim, the elder half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, died of poisoning by the lethal VX nerve agent - which is banned under the United Nations Chemical Weapons Convention.

Both women have claimed innocence and told police that they were hired for a prank in a reality TV programme. However, the authorities believe they were aware that the liquid used was poisonous.

The charge sheet places the two young women - along with four North Korean men who fled the country - as those behind the murder of Kim Chol, the name used by Mr Kim in his diplomatic passport.

Both women looked weary and were calm in court, displaying no emotion when the charge was read out to them.

Siti, clad in a dark red shirt and pants, was quiet throughout. Her embassy-appointed lawyer Gooi Soon Seng was granted a gag order from the court, preventing police, officials or witnesses from making public statements about his client.

"This is to ensure the right to fair trial and that my client is not compromised," Mr Gooi told the court.

After the court session ended, he told reporters: "We would advise her to claim trial."

Meanwhile, Huong's lawyer S. Selvam Shamugam was hired by her family to take on the case.

The Malaysian authorities are still seeking seven North Korean men in their investigations, including the four men who departed Malaysia on the day of the attack.

Police have in custody North Korean Ri Jong Chol, whose remand ends this weekend. The China Press newspaper reported yesterday that he is likely to be released owing to insufficient evidence for a charge.

Yesterday, Malaysian Health Minister S. Subramaniam said the authorities "will not change the cause of death for any reason or other", amid continued pressure by North Korean officials for the release of the body to their embassy and their insistence that the cause of death is "heart stroke".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2017, with the headline 'Kim murder suspects make first appearance since arrest'. Print Edition | Subscribe