Two women plead not guilty in death of North Korean leader's estranged half brother

Two women accused of smearing a banned nerve agent on the face of the estranged half brother of North Korea's leader pleaded not guilty as their trial began Monday in the Feb. 13 death at a crowded Malaysian airport terminal.

Siti Aisyah of Indonesia and Doan Thi Huong of Vietnam are suspected of using VX nerve agent to kill Kim Jong Nam at Kuala Lumpur's airport. The women say they thought they were playing a harmless prank for a hidden-camera TV show.

An airport doctor testified that Kim died rapidly, with his blood pressure and pulse first soaring and then plunging.

After the charges were read to the women in their native languages at Malaysia's High Court, they shook their heads “no” when asked whether they were guilty.

The pair are the only suspects in custody in a killing that South Korea's spy agency said was part of a five-year plot by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to kill an older brother he reportedly had never met.

Police say four North Koreans suspected of involvement left the country the day of the attack. Three others who holed up inside the North Korean Embassy were allowed to leave in a deal with Pyongyang to ease tensions, despite Malaysia's anger at the use of a chemical weapon on its territory.

Lawyers for the two women, who face the death penalty if convicted, asked the court to compel prosecutors to identify four people still at large who are mentioned in the charge sheet as having a common intention to kill Kim. The judge denied the request.

The prosecution phase of the trial is expected to last about two months, after which the judge will decide whether there is a strong case for the women to have to mount their defense, said Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, Huong's lawyer.

Kim, who was 45 or 46, was the eldest son of the family that has ruled North Korea since its founding, yet he reportedly fell out of favor in 2001 when he was caught trying to enter Japan on a false passport, saying he wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland. He had been living abroad for years and at the time of his death was traveling on a North Korean diplomatic passport under the name “Kim Chol.”

North Korea has a long history of ordering killings of people it views as threats to its government, though Kim was not thought to be seeking influence over his younger brother. He had, however, spoken out publicly against his family's dynastic control of the reclusive, nuclear-armed nation.

North Korea has denied any role in the killing and has not acknowledged the dead man was Kim Jong Nam. It has suggested the victim died of a heart attack and accused Malaysia of working with South Korean and other “hostile forces” in blaming Pyongyang.

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
67°