Two women accused of killing Mr Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korea's leader, pleaded not guilty at the start of their trial yesterday, but the prosecution claimed the suspects had practised the act overseen by four people still at large.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Muhammad Iskandar Ahmad said in his opening statement that evidence clearly showed Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25, and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, 29, had wiped the deadly VX nerve agent on Mr Kim's face at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Feb 13.
The murder charge was first read in Bahasa Indonesia to Siti Aisyah, who was wearing a traditional Malay dress. It was then read to Huong, who was clad in a blue jumper, in Vietnamese.
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 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.
WHAT VICTIM SAID
Sir, walk slow. My eyes are blurred. I cannot see.
POLICE OFFICER ZULKARNAIN ZAINUDDIN, quoting Mr Kim Jong Nam as saying on the way to the airport clinic.
Our client was charged with four others sharing common intention to cause the death of the deceased, so we are entitled to know their identities. But the judge is not persuaded.
LAWYER HISYAM TEH, representing Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong.
HOW IT UNFOLDED
Feb 13, 2017
Mr Kim Jong Nam, carrying a passport that identifies him as Kim Chol, is attacked at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (KLIA 2) at around 9am.
Malaysian police arrest Vietnamese woman Doan Thi Huong at KLIA2 as she plans to fly out.
Police arrest Indonesian woman Siti Aisyah.
North Korean national Ri Jong Chol, who has a work visa from a Malaysian healthcare medication company, is arrested. He is deported subsequently.
Police release images of four North Korean men who are said to have provided the two women with the deadly nerve agent VX that killed Mr Kim. They are believed to have fled Malaysia shortly after the attack.
Huong and Siti Aisyah are charged with murder.
Q Why Mr Kim Jong Nam?
A Theory 1: He was a possible threat to the leadership of his half-brother, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
Theory 2: He was too critical of Mr Kim Jong Un's regime.
Theory 3: The killing was a display of Mr Kim Jong Un's power, egged on by his loyalists.
Q Why in Malaysia?
A Malaysia has often been considered an ideal spot for North Korea's espionage, according to ranking officials familiar with inter-Korea affairs. More significantly, he was believed to have been protected by Beijing when he was in Macau, where he spent a large part of his time, and it would have been harder to kill him.
"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 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 the death of the deceased, so we are entitled to know their identities. But the judge is not persuaded," said Huong's lawyer Hisyam Teh. "There are still other avenues we can pursue. All is not lost. We are convinced she is innocent."
The defence lawyers told reporters that they had sought to have the prosecution release the names of the four individuals, and to confirm if they are indeed the same people who were identified by the police as North Korean men who fled Malaysia on the day that Mr Kim, 45, was killed.
If found guilty, the two women face the death penalty.
The lawyers said both women were in "high spirits" yesterday.
The court heard two witnesses in the morning - an airport staff member who had attended to Mr Kim and a police officer who had taken him to the clinic.
According to police officer Zulkarnain Zainuddin, Mr Kim told him while they were heading to the clinic: "Sir, walk slow. My eyes are blurred. I cannot see."
The officer added that Mr Kim's eyes were red and there was liquid on his face.
A total of 153 witnesses will be called during the trial.
Mr Gooi Soon Seng, the lawyer who is representing Siti Aisyah, said that the prosecution will call 10 experts to testify.
Siti Aisyah and Huong were arrested just days after the killing of Mr Kim - the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. 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.
Yesterday, the lawyers for the two women questioned if Mr Kim was killed by the deadly VX nerve agent or by other means.
The afternoon session of the first trial day for the high-profile murder 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 tissue paper during intubation in the ambulance.
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.
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.