THE highly anticipated high-profile murder trial of the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un kicked off in Malaysia on Monday with the two women accused of using a banned nerve agent to carry out the assassination pleading not guilty.
Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25, and Doan Thi Huong, 28, a Vietnamese, are charged with killing Kim Jong Nam by smearing his face with VX, a chemical poison banned by the United Nations, at Kuala Lumpur’s international airport on Feb. 13.
Both women wore bullet-proof vests as they were led into the court on the outskirts of the Malaysian capital. They face the death penalty if convicted.
The two women nodded their heads when the charge was read out to them at the Shah Alam court on the outskirts of the Malaysian capital.
Siti was dressed in a black floral suit, while Huong wore a white long-sleeved t-shirt and jeans.
The women had told their lawyers they did not know they were participating in a deadly attack and believed they were carrying out a prank for a reality TV show.
The prosecution said both the accused had carried out several practice runs at shopping malls in Kuala Lumpur ahead of the attack on Kim Jong Nam.
“The prank practice carried out by the first and second accused with the supervision of the four who are still at large was preparation to see through their common intention to kill the victim,” the prosecution said in its charge sheet.
The prosecution said the intention was apparent as the accused smeared the victim’s face and eyes with VX nerve agent, which a post-mortem confirmed had killed Kim.
According to the New Straits Times, Muhammad Iskandar Ahmad, who leads the prosecution team, said the prosecution will prove that the accused had a common intention to murder the victim, and not to carry out the prank, as claimed.
Defence lawyers demanded that the prosecution immediately name the four other suspects who have also been charged in the case but who are still at large. The prosecution said their identities would be revealed during the trial.
South Korean and US officials have said that Kim Jong Un’s regime was behind the murder. North Korea denies the allegation.
Before the trial began, Aisyah’s lawyer Gooi Soon Seng said the core defence will be that she didn’t know she had poison on her hand when she smeared Kim’s face and was instead the victim of an elaborate trick, Japan Times reported (via the Associated Press).
The lawyer said over the course of a few days, a North Korean man, who went by the name James, instructed Aisyah to go out to public places such as malls, hotels and airports to rub oil or pepper sauce on strangers, while he filmed the acts on his phone.
Gooi said Aisyah received US$100-200 for each prank in hopes the money would allow her to stop working as an escort.
The trial is expected to run until Nov 30 and the prosecution is expected to call up to 40 witnesses.
The prosecution also said in its opening statement that expert testimony would be presented to prove that VX was the cause of death.
Additional reporting by Reuters