Updated at 3:20 p.m. ET on 2018-08-16
Two Southeast Asian women standing trial on charges of murdering North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half-brother will begin presenting their defense in November after a Kuala Lumpur judge ruled Thursday that prosecutors had presented sufficient evidence against them.
Judge Azmi Ariffin spent more than two hours reading his decision against Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 26, and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, 29, ultimately dashing defense attorney hopes that he would drop charges against the two upon finding the evidence presented thus far to be lacking.
“I cannot rule out political assassinations. Suffice to say I find the evidence at this juncture satisfied the ingredients of the charge that have been supplied by the prosecution. I must call them to enter a defense,” Azmi ruled.
“The defense hammered the credibility of the investigating officer saying that he conducted a biased investigation and prejudiced the accused,” Azmi said, adding, “I find no reason not to believe the investigating officer.
The defense is to begin its case on Nov. 1. Six court sessions are scheduled for November, three for December, eight for January and three for February.
Siti is to be the first witness to testify when the trial resumes, and Doan also plans to testify, the Associated Press (AP) reported.
The women would face the death penalty if convicted. Both have pleaded not guilty to the charge of killing Kim Jong Nam by smearing his face with the deadly VX nerve agent at a Kuala Lumpur airport on Feb. 13, 2017.
Relatives of the women reacted with dismay to the outcome of the court session.
Siti’s father, Asriah, 50, told BenarNews by telephone from Serang, west of Jakarta, that his family was praying for her well-being.
“My child should be sent home because she is innocent. The case is being manipulated. She didn’t know that man,” he said of Kim.
Doan’s father told AP he could not sleep the night before the court session. “I had thought she would be innocent,” Doan Van Thanh said.
Speaking to reporters after the court session, Siti lawyer Gooi Soon Seng said he was disappointed by the judge’s decision but would move forward.
“That is the judgment by which we are going to abide,” he said.
“Unfortunately, we are not able to appeal the judgment at this point,” he said, adding, “because the ruling is not a final ruling.”
‘Common sense will prevail’
The women’s lawyers maintained they were duped by suspected North Korean agents into believing they were being paid to perform a video prank.
Four North Koreans, labeled as suspected government agents, had been jointly accused of carrying out the murder with the women. They allegedly recruited the women and provided them with the lethal poison on the day of the murder.
Police said they fled Malaysia the day Kim was murdered and none are in custody.
“I was not swayed by the defense’s suggestion that what happened was part of a prank. The sole purpose of a prank is fun,” Azmi said, calling the defense effort self-serving.
He said the women’s conduct following the attack on Kim Jong Nam appeared to be coordinated and similar.
“In this matter, common sense must prevail,” he said.
Kim Jong Nam’s assassination was among reasons cited by U.S. officials in pushing for North Korea’s November 2017 re-inclusion on a blacklist of nations described as state sponsors of terrorism.
Deputy public prosecutor Wan Shaharuddin Wan Ladin rejected accusations that Pyongyang was behind the murder.
“There is no evidence whatsoever that there is a conspiracy by the North Koreans or even the [leader] of North Korea,” Wan Shaharuddin told reporters before the trial adjourned in June.
He had told the court that the airport murder was something “only seen in James Bond movies,” adding it was absurd to think both women were unaware they were smearing a deadly chemical on Kim’s face.
Tria Dianti in Jakarta contributed to this report.