Vietnamese woman in Kim Jong Nam murder trial escapes gallows

Vietnamese national Doan Thi Huong's father Doan Van Thanh outside the High Court in Shah Alam yesterday. Vietnamese national Doan Thi Huong is all smiles as she is escorted from the Shah Alam High Court after Malaysian prosecutors dropped the murder
Vietnamese national Doan Thi Huong is all smiles as she is escorted from the Shah Alam High Court after Malaysian prosecutors dropped the murder charge against her. She was offered an alternative charge of causing hurt under Section 324 of the Penal Code, to which she pleaded guilty.PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Mr Kim Jong Nam was killed by a nerve agent in February 2017.
Vietnamese national Doan Thi Huong’s father Doan Van Thanh outside the High Court in Shah Alam yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Vietnamese national Doan Thi Huong's father Doan Van Thanh outside the High Court in Shah Alam yesterday. Vietnamese national Doan Thi Huong is all smiles as she is escorted from the Shah Alam High Court after Malaysian prosecutors dropped the murder
Mr Kim Jong Nam was killed by a nerve agent in February 2017.

Doan Thi Huong likely to be out next month as her prison term could be reduced by a third

A 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 yesterday after pleading guilty to a lesser charge.

Doan Thi Huong, 30, will likely be freed next month as her prison term could be reduced by a third.

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

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

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."

 
 

Mr Hisyam told the court that Huong had been honest about her reasons for coming to Malaysia and also during police investigations.

"She is neither a criminal nor has a propensity to commit a crime," he said, citing her background. Her father, a war veteran, is 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 of Mr Kim Jong Nam "under the camouflage of funny videos and pranks".

Yesterday, Huong's stepmother Nguyen Thi Vy said she was happy Huong escaped the death sentence.

"To anyone meeting her, please tell her to try to hang on, just one more month," Agence France-Presse quoted her as saying from her home in northern Vietnam.

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 said in passing the verdict: "First of all... 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 a female cannot be whipped, so a whipping sentence cannot be given."

Huong's father Doan Van Thanh was in court for the verdict, which came two weeks after the Vietnamese woman's co-accused, Indonesian Siti Aisyah, was unexpectedly released on March 11, when prosecutors dropped their charges.

Huong had been accused alongside Ms Aisyah, 27, of killing Mr Kim by smearing the 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 two women denied murder, saying they believed they were taking part in a prank for a reality show after being tricked by North Korean agents. They 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 had been rejected.

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

Reports said the 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.


2 years after murder, details still a mystery

KUALA LUMPUR • Early on a February morning two years ago, a balding man in a grey suit entered Kuala Lumpur International Airport, glanced up at the departures board and walked to check in for his flight to Macau.

Screen grabs of grainy video clips supposedly showing Mr Kim Jong Nam (circled in photo on the left) and the woman suspect (right) linked to his death at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in February 2017.
Screen grabs of grainy video clips supposedly showing Mr Kim Jong Nam (circled in photo, above) and the woman suspect linked to his death at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in February 2017. PHOTO: NEW STRAITS TIMES

Screen grabs of grainy video clips supposedly showing Mr Kim Jong Nam (circled in photo on the left) and the woman suspect (right) linked to his death at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in February 2017.
Screen grabs of grainy video clips supposedly showing Mr Kim Jong Nam and the woman suspect (above) linked to his death at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in February 2017. PHOTO: MALAY MAIL

A few steps away from a Starbucks cafe and a Puffy Buffy food stall, a woman stood in front of Mr Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korea's leader, to distract him.

Her partner approached from behind, pulled from her handbag a cloth drenched in liquid VX, a chemical weapon, reached around Mr Kim's head and clamped it onto his face.

That was enough to deliver the deadly poison to the 46-year-old relative of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Mr Kim Jong Nam had been travelling under his pseudonym Kim Chol, police said.

After the attack, he approached a help desk and explained that someone seemed to have grabbed his face and he felt dizzy. He was taken to Menara Medical Clinic, one floor down, near the airport's arrivals area. But it was too late. Mr Kim Jong Nam died in an ambulance on the way to hospital.

The brazen murder was caught on grainy closed-circuit television camera footage that was broadcast around the world. Till today, many details remain a mystery.

South Korean and Western officials had at that time accused North Korea of a state-sponsored hit. Pyongyang has denied any involvement.

Yesterday, Malaysian prosecutors dropped a murder charge against Doan Thi Huong, the 30-year-old Vietnamese woman who smothered Mr Kim Jong Nam, after she pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of causing harm using dangerous means.

Huong was sentenced to three years and four months in prison but could be released as early as next month, her lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik said.

Huong's Indonesian co-accused Siti Aisyah, 26, was freed on March 11 after a Malaysian court dropped charges against her.

Both women say they believed they were taking part in a television prank. Their lawyers have maintained that the women were pawns in an assassination orchestrated by North Korean agents.

Four North Koreans, identified as suspects by Malaysian police, left the country hours after the murder and remain at large.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 02, 2019, with the headline 'Vietnamese woman in Kim Jong Nam murder trial escapes gallows'. Print Edition | Subscribe