Two suspects charged with murdering the estranged half-brother of North Korea’s leader appeared in a Malaysian court on Thursday as one of their lawyers voiced concerns that Kuala Lumpur may have “compromised” the case.
Appearing in bullet-proof vests one of the lawyers also warned they feared “trial by ambush” with police not sharing evidence. Indonesian Siti Aishah, 25, and Doan Thi Huong, 28, from Vietnam, face the death penalty if convicted of murdering Kim Jong Nam at Kuala Lumpur International airport on February 13.
The two women have been accused of smearing Kim’s face with the toxic VX nerve agent, a chemical described by the United Nations as a weapon of mass destruction.
Aishah and Huong have told diplomats from their countries that they had believed they were carrying out a prank for a reality television show, and not a murder. US and South Korean officials say the murder was orchestrated by the North’s leader, Kim Jong Un.
Kim Jong Nam, the eldest son of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, had spoken out publicly against his family’s dynastic control of the isolated, nuclear-armed nation.
Lawyers for Aishah and Huong told the court on Thursday that police had not responded to requests to provide evidence including CCTV recordings and statements from three North Korean suspects allowed to leave Malaysia.
The three were allowed to go home late last month, along with the body of Kim Jong Nam, as part of a swap deal with North Korea, which had banned nine Malaysians from leaving there.
“We’ve lost an opportunity to cross-examine them … There should be no trial by ambush,” Aishah’s lawyer, Gooi Soon Seng, told reporters outside the court.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Aishah said the man who he believes recruited his client was allowed to leave Malaysia late last month, after the country struck a surprise deal with North Korea.
“(He) may not be implicated in the actual event of the murder, but his evidence is so important, central to our defense because it clearly shows how this naive girl was duped into doing things outside her knowledge,” Gooi Soon Seng said at his office in the suburbs of Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysian police did not immediately respond to calls for comment, but they have said in recent weeks that the deal with North Korea did not affect the investigation.
Gooi also said one of the three suspects who was allowed to leave Malaysia, Ri Ji U, also known as James, was a key witness and his departure had “compromised” the defense.
Hisyam Teh, Huong’s lawyer, requested police to furnish evidence such as photos and communications from the two phones seized from her.
Malaysia’s inspector-general of police, Khalid Abu Bakar, denied that police had “compromised” the case or refused to cooperate with the defense, saying some evidence “can only be provided during the trial”.
Four other North Koreans have also been identified by Malaysian police as suspects. They are believed to have left Kuala Lumpur for Pyongyang on the day of the killing.
The magistrate court was set to hear a prosecutors’ request that the two women be tried jointly in a higher court, but the hearing was deferred to May 30 after the prosecution asked for more time to collect documents.
Gooi said James should not have been allowed to leave because he was key to Aishah’s defense. He said James had recruited Aishah in early January to star in his video prank shows
Aishah was paid about $100-$200 for each prank and hoped the income would allow her to stop working as a social escort, Gooi said.
Gooi said that in January, Aishah flew to Cambodia, where James introduced her to a man known as Chang. He said that Chang identified himself as a Chinese who produces video prank shows for the China market, and that Aisyah did three pranks at the airport in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. Chang was later identified by Aishah as Hong Song Hac, one of four North Korean suspects who fled Malaysia on the same day Kim was killed.
Gooi said Hong asked Aishah to do several more pranks at the Kuala Lumpur airport a few days before Kim was attacked. He said Aishah met Hong at the airport on the day of the killing, and that Hong identified Kim to Aishah and allegedly put the poison on her hand.
“The real culprit has escaped and the people who have been (used) become the scapegoats,” Gooi said. “By allowing James to go back when he could shed light on the truth of the matter, that would have compromised the defense and that I would say constitutes a miscarriage of justice.”