2 women plead not guilty to killing Kim Jong Nam; prosecution says they practised act overseen by 4 others

Vietnamese defendant Doan Thi Huong (second from left) being escorted by police after her trial at the Shah Alam High Court in Shah Alam, on Oct 2, 2017. PHOTO: AFP
Indonesian defendant Siti Aisyah (left), being escorted out by police after her trial at the Shah Alam High Court in Shah Alam, on Oct 2, 2017. PHOTO: AFP
Indonesian Siti Aisyah (left), 25, and Doan Thi Huong (right), 28, from Vietnam were charged under Section 302 of the Penal Code, which provides for the mandatory death sentence upon conviction. PHOTO: AFP
The car transporting Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, escorted by four police vehicles, were seen arriving at the court compound at around 8am. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

KUALA LUMPUR - Lawyers for the two women accused of killing Mr Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korea's leader, are questioning if he was killed by the deadly VX nerve agent or by other means.

"We are questioning the validity of whether Kim Jong Nam was actually killed by VX. We have to unfold the case," said lawyer Gooi Soon Seng, representing Indonesian suspect Siti Aisyah, 25.

The afternoon session of the first trial day for the high profile murder of Mr Kim saw testimonies by two witnesses who attended to him at the airport clinic.

Medical assistant Rabiatul Adawiyah Mohd Sufi told the court that she had touched Mr Kim's face with her bare hands after wiping it with tissues during intubation in the ambulance.

Defence lawyers immediately raised questions over the different people who were in contact with Mr Kim but did not exhibit any symptoms.

"Why is it that people who attended to Kim Jong Nam did not have symptoms of VX poisoning though they're in direct contact with him," said Mr Gooi to reporters.

The prosecution is in the midst of cross examining the fourth witness, the airport clinic's doctor who tended to Mr Kim on the day of the incident. The court adjourned for the day at 4pm and will resume tomorrow with the defense's questions for the clinic's doctor.

Defense lawyers said they are not privy to who would be called up next on Tuesday.

Earlier on Monday, Siti Aisyah and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, 29, pleaded not guilty at the start of the trial, but the prosecution claimed the suspects had practised the act overseen by four people still at large.

Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Muhammad Iskandar Ahmad said in his opening statement that evidence clearly showed Siti had wiped VX nerve agent on Mr Kim's face.

The murder charge was first read in the Indonesian language to Siti, who was wearing a traditional Malay dress. It was then read to Doan in her language. She was clad in a blue jumper. Both women pleaded not guilty.

The pair had claimed before they were charged that they were duped into believing they were taking part in a prank for a reality TV show.

They were both charged separately but their trial will be heard together.

The prosecutor's charge sheet includes mention that the two women had committed murder along with four unnamed individuals.

"The actions of Accused 1 and Accused 2 to have prank practice overseen by four others who are still free show mutual intent to cause the death of the deceased," it said.

Defence lawyers requested Judge Datuk Azmi Ariffin to allow the four individuals to be identified but the request was overruled.

"Our client was charged with four others sharing common intention to cause death of deceased so we are entitled to know their identities. But the Judge is not persuaded," said Doan's lawyer Hisyam Teh. "There are still other avenues we can pursue. All is not lost. We are convinced she is innocent."

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The defence lawyers told reporters they sought to have the prosecution release the names of the four persons and to confirm if they are indeed the same persons who were identified by the police as North Korean men who fled Malaysia on Feb 13, the day Mr Kim was killed.

"We feel that disclosure is fundamental to any fair trial," said Mr Gooi Soon Seng, who is representing Siti Aisyah. "We told her to stay focused and if there's any area in which a witness may be lying, to inform us," he added.

If found guilty, the two women face the death penalty.

The lawyers said both women were in "high spirits" on Monday.

The court heard two witnesses in the morning - an airport staff who attended to Mr Kim and a policeman who took him to the clinic.

According to the policeman Zulkarnain Zainuddin, Mr Kim told him while they were heading to the clinic: "Sir, walk slow. My eyes blur. I cannot see".

The officer said Mr Kim's eyes were red and there was liquid on his face.

A total of 153 witnesses will be called during the trial, closely watched by both local and international media, some of which waited outside the court from as early as 1am.

Mr Gooi said the prosecution will call 10 experts to testify. He also told reporters he was sure the four unnamed persons will not appear during the trial.

Siti and Huong were arrested just days after the killing of Mr Kim - the half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un - on Feb 13 as he waited to board a plane to Macau at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. He died about 20 minutes after the nerve agent attacked his central nervous system. VX is a deadly chemical that is listed as a weapon of mass destruction.

The murder sparked a fierce row between North Korea and Malaysia, which had been one of Pyongyang's few allies amid global alarm over the country's atomic weapons programme, with both countries expelling each other's ambassadors.

South Korea and the United States have accused North Korea of assassinating Kim. Pyongyang has denied the claim, and has accused the Malaysian authorities of subverting investigations and conspiring with its enemies.

The diplomatic spat led both sides to expel each other's ambassador. Pyongyang barred Malaysians from leaving North Korea, and Kuala Lumpur did the same, and accused North Korea of holding its citizens hostage.

The four men suspected of links to the attack fled Malaysia immediately after the killing, while some North Koreans were allowed to leave the country later to ease the diplomatic crisis.

The run-up to the trial has been marked by criticism from the women's lawyers, who accuse prosecutors of failing to properly cooperate with them.

Prosecutors will lay out their case over two months and will call 30 to 40 witnesses. The defence is then likely to be called.

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Two women, accused of murdering North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's estranged half-brother, plead not guilty as their case begins at a court in Malaysia.

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