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Kim Jong-Nam murder trial to start in October

Two women accused of the Cold War-style assassination of the half-brother of North Korea's leader in Malaysia will go on trial in October, a judge said Friday.

Malaysian policemen escort a four-wheel drive believed to be carrying Vietnamese national Doan Thi Huong and Indonesian national Siti Aisyah after a court appearance at the Shah Alam High Court in Shah Alam, outside Kuala Lumpur on July 28, 2017, for their alleged role in the assassination of Kim Jong-Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25, and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, 28, have been charged with the murder of Kim Jong-Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in February / AFP PHOTO / MOHD RASFAN

Two women accused of the Cold War-style assassination of the half-brother of North Korea’s leader in Malaysia will go on trial in October, a judge said Friday.

Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong are accused of rubbing highly toxic VX nerve agent in the face of Kim Jong-Nam as he waited to board a plane at Kuala Lumpur’s main airport in February.

The women, who may face the death penalty if convicted, deny carrying out the killing and say they were duped into believing they were taking part in a reality TV show.

Seoul accuses North Korea of being behind the murder of Kim Jong-Un’s estranged relative, which sparked a serious diplomatic row between Malaysia and the North. Pyongyang denies the allegation.

At a heavily guarded court outside Kuala Lumpur, the women arrived wearing bullet-proof vests and handcuffs, and were taken past a waiting pack of journalists.

Judge Azmi Ariffin told the 30-minute hearing at the High Court in Shah Alam that the trial would begin on October 2 and would be completed within about two months.

“I am making a ruling that both the cases will be tried jointly,” he told the packed courtroom.

The two accused were brought into the courtroom in handcuffs wearing traditional Malaysian dresses. They looked nervous but occasionally smiled to their lawyers and embassy officials.

After the hearing, Aisyah, 25, started sobbing, and one of her lawyers patted her back to calm her down.

Prosecutor Muhammad Iskandar Ahmad said 30 to 40 witnesses would be called. The women’s lawyers said they would enter pleas at the start of the trial in October.

VX ‘doubts’
Gooi Soon Seng, Aisyah’s lawyer, said the Indonesian’s defence would centre on her claim that she believed she was playing a prank.

He also said he had doubts about the experts’ report showing that VX, a chemical described by the United Nations as a weapon of mass destruction, was used in the killing.

“We doubt the report. They said they found traces of ‘precursor and degrading product’ of VX. What does that mean? They never said that is VX,” he said.

Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, a lawyer for the 29-year-old Vietnamese suspect, said the defence teams were Friday handed CCTV evidence of what happened at the airport. The women’s legal teams had previously complained that they were not provided with key materials which would allow them to mount a proper defence.

The assassination, which happened just as Kim was about to board a flight to Macau from the airport’s budget terminal, sent tensions soaring between Pyongyang and Kuala Lumpur.

Both countries expelled each other’s ambassadors and barred their citizens from leaving. Tensions eased when Malaysia agreed to return Kim’s body.

Police are still trying to trace four North Koreans suspected of having taken part in the murder plot but who are believed to have returned to their capital immediately after the killing.

The murder in Kuala Lumpur removed a potential claimant to the leadership of the reclusive nation — Kim Jong-Nam was late leader Kim Jong-Il’s first born — who was an embarrassment to Pyongyang, which has caused global alarm with its atomic weapons programme.