The trial of the murder of Kim Jong-un’s estranged half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, began in Malaysia today
Two women accused of murdering the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un with a banned chemical poison have pleaded not guilty in Malaysia’s High Court today, nearly eight months after the assassination took place.
Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, 28, and Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25, who arrived at the court wearing bulletproof vests, dwarfed by heavily armed police, are charged with killing Kim Jong-nam at Kuala Lumpur’s International Airport on 13 February by smearing his face with nerve agent VX, an act which killed him within 20 minutes.
The defendants, who face the death penalty if convicted, claim that they were unaware at the time that they were carrying out a deadly attack and believed that they were part of an elaborate reality TV show prank.
According to Aisyah’s lawyer, Gooi Soon Seng, Aisyah had previously been paid up to $200 to rub oil and pepper sauce on strangers, as part of a series of pranks instigated by a North Korean man who went by the name of James.
In late January, Aisyah had flown to Cambodia, where James introduced her to a man called Chang, who said he was the producer of video prank shows for the Chinese market, according to Aisyah’s lawyer. On the day of the assassination, the lawyer added, Chang pointed Kim Jong-nam to Aisyah and then gave her the poison.
However, according to the prosecution’s Muhamad Iskandar Ahmad, that the pair had practiced the hit before carrying it out for real proved their “intention to kill”.
“The prank exercises… were a preparation by all of them to cause the death of the victim,” he told the court.
The women’s defence teams insist that the true masterminds of the assassination are four North Koreans who police have said fled Malaysia the day Kim Jong-nam was assassinated and that their clients were simply scapegoats.
The prosecution has said that the identities of the four will be revealed during the trial.
The run-up to the trial has been marked by questions surrounding Kim Jong-nam’s identity and relationship with half-brother Kim Jong Un.
Jong-nam, who was the eldest son of the family that has ruled North Korea since its founding, reportedly fell out of favour with the North Korean regime in 2001 when he was caught trying to enter Japan on a false passport.
At the time of his death, he was travelling on a North Korean diplomatic passport under the name Kim Chol.
While he was reportedly uninterested in politics, in the past, he had publicly spoken out against his family’s dynastic control of the reclusive, nuclear-armed nation, acts of betrayal that South Korea’s spy agency have said were reason enough for North Korea’s regime to order his assassination.
The North denies the allegation; instead suggesting Jong-nam died of a heart attack.