Prosecutors offered the first evidence Thursday linking the lethal VX nerve agent to two Southeast Asian women charged with murdering the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
A chemical weapons expert, who testified for the prosecution, told the Malaysian High Court near Kuala Lumpur that he found traces of VX, a nerve agent banned by the United Nations, on the clothes of Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25, and Vietnamese Doan Thi Hoang, 28.
The two migrant workers are accused of murdering Kim Jong Nam at a Kuala Lumpur airport on Feb. 13 by smearing his face with VX as he waited to board a flight to Macau. The women have denied the charges, saying they thought they were playing a harmless prank while being filmed for a hidden-camera TV show.
Kim died within minutes of being attacked and the two women, who face the death penalty if convicted, were arrested a few days after the sensational assassination that sparked a diplomatic row between Malaysia and North Korea.
Raja Subramaniam, chief chemist at Malaysia’s Chemical Weapons and Analysis Center, testified Thursday that traces of the chemical weapon were found on shirts belonging to Siti Aisyah and Doan.
“We found a degradation product of VX on sleeveless shirt of Siti Aisyah,” the chemist told the Shah Alam court in Selangor state.
He said he found VX and a degraded form of the agent on a T-shirt Doan wore during the day of the attack. The shirt was printed with “LOL,” acronym for “laughing out loud,” in big letters. Traces of the poison were also found on clippings of Doan’s fingernails, he said.
“I found VX nerve agent precursors on a ‘LOL’ shirt’s sleeve and Siti’s sleeve,” the expert said.
Existence of the precursor, the chemist explained, confirmed that VX agent was present on the clothing.
VX is outlawed under the Chemical Weapons Convention. It is fatal after 15 minutes, according to the U.S. Army's Edgewood Chemical Biological Center.
Defense lawyers who have attempted to create doubts in the prosecution case were not perturbed with the chemist’s findings.
“It was only a single evidence and we are confident that we would be able to replace the doubts (on client) with reasons,” Doan’s lawyer, Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, told reporters during a break in the hearing.
VX is ‘colorless, odorless and tasteless’
The fourth day of the trial saw the prosecution spending about four hours asking more questions of their eighth witness after he was cross-examined by the defense team. Raja discussed the nerve agent’s features in pure form and its transportability.
“VX in pure form is colorless, odorless and tasteless,” Raja said, adding that it can be “transported easily in a mineral water bottle.”
He said if a drop of VX comes into contact with human skin, death can be prevented by performing decontamination within 15 minutes from time of contact. Its lethality depended on the dosage and where on the body it was applied.
“What if a drop of VX came to contact with human skin? What do we need to do to prevent fatal disruption to the nerve system?” prosecutor Wan Shaharuddin asked.
“We have to wash with running water and physical scrubbing for a certain period of time before getting medical assistance,” Raja replied.
He also testified that VX gets absorbed into human body faster through the eyes compared to skin including the palm of the hand, which is least sensitive.
Earlier, Raja told the court that chemical tests on Kim Jong Nam's belongings, such as his bag and jacket, also found traces of VX.
Judge Azmi Ariffin ordered the trial to resume Monday at the government’s chemical laboratory, allowing attorneys and the defendants to see the VX-tainted samples from the two women. The order came after Raja told the court the VX might still be active and it would be safer to view samples in the lab.
Meanwhile, Wan Shaharuddin told BenarNews the prosecution team still faces an uphill battle despite the chemist’s testimony.
“This case still has a long way to go,” he said. “As of now, the two girls are innocent until proven guilty.”
Defense lawyer Salim Bashir, attorney for Vietnamese defendant Doan Thi Hoang, shows a photo of the “LOL” shirt worn by his client during a break on the fourth day of trial at the Shah Alam court complex, Oct. 5, 2017. [Fadzil Aziz/BenarNews)]