Malaysia charges 2 foreign women with murder in Kim Jong Nam case

Malaysia charges an Indonesian and Vietnamese with murdering the estranged half-brother of North Korea's leader in an assassination using a super-toxic nerve agent that killed in minutes.
Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong and Indonesian Siti Aisyah (left) are escorted with a heavy police presence for a court appearance at the magistrates' court in Sepang.
Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong and Indonesian Siti Aisyah (left) are escorted with a heavy police presence for a court appearance at the magistrates' court in Sepang. PHOTO: AFP

SEPANG - Two foreign women were charged on Wednesday (March 1) morning with the murder of the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, 28, and Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25, who had smeared Mr Kim Jong Nam's face with a deadly chemical at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 on Feb 13, had said that they were recruited to play a prank on him for a reality TV show and did not know that they were using poison.

If convicted, they will receive the death penalty.

Mr Kim, who was travelling under the name of Kim Chol, was at the airport to catch a flight to Macau when he was attacked. He died on the way to hospital.

The two women, who were arrested two weeks ago, looked tired when they appeared in court. Siti Aisyah wore a dark red shirt and pants, and Doan was in a yellow top and blue jeans.

The charges were read out to them via an interpreter and they were asked if they understood the charges. Both said yes.

Doan added: "I understand but I'm not guilty."

Lawyer S. Selvam Shamugam, who is representing Doan, said his client "is perfectly very sound", and he would meet her on Thursday morning at Kajang Prison.

Lawyer Gooi Soon Seng, who is representing Siti Aisyah, said: "We would advise her to claim trial."

Mr Gooi also asked the court to impose a restraint order to prevent the police or officials or any witnesses from making statements in public or to the media.

The prosecution has asked for a second mention date on April 13 so that it could collect all the necessary documents.

Prosecutor Iskandar Ahmad said: "Hopefully we can get everything by then and transfer the case to the High Court."

According to closed-circuit TV footage of the attack, a woman resembling Siti approached Mr Kim from the front and another who looked like Doan approached him from the back to mount the attack.

Siti was reported to have said that she thought the liquid was baby oil. Police said that Doan headed to the toilet after the attack to wash her hands, with her arms held away, indicating that she knew the fluid was dangerous.

Another suspect, Kuala Lumpur-based North Korean Ri Jong Chol, is in remand until Saturday, and Attorney-General Apandi Ali told The Straits Times on Tuesday that investigations have not been completed.

South Korea and the United States have said that Mr Kim was assassinated by North Korean agents. Pyongyang has denied the charge and said the dead man was a North Korean travelling on a diplomatic passport by the name of Kim Chol. It has also accused Malaysia of subverting investigations and engaging in a political conspiracy with Pyongyang's enemies.

Kuala Lumpur has denied the allegations and recalled its ambassador to North Korea.

Malaysia has identified the poison used in the attack as the nerve agent VX, a substance so lethal that skin contact with a 10 mg drop can be fatal. The United Nations consider VX to be a weapon of mass destruction.  

The North Korean embassy has insisted the cause of death is a “heart stroke”. 

A high-level North Korean delegation on Tuesday arrived from Pyongyang to request the release of the body as well as the release of the North Korean suspect who is being held. 

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Health Minister Subramaniam Sathasivam confirmed that the delegation met members of the Cabinet, but stressed that Malaysia would follow its protocols in handling the release of the deceased's body.

Datuk Seri Subramaniam added that Malaysia would not be revising the cause of death and said the body would not be released as the authorities needed more time to confirm the identity, given that no next-of-kin or family member has yet to come forward. 

"We reflect the stance of the government as far as the cause of death as well as to identify the body and to hand over the body to family," he told reporters. "It can be requested by North Korea, but (it is) not necessary for us to accede to their request," he said.

Malaysian police are also seeking seven other North Koreans in relation to the attack, four of whom are believed to have returned to Pyongyang. One of the seven is a senior diplomat at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur.