A Southeast Asian woman charged with murdering Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean dictator’s estranged half-brother, was paid for performing pranks at a mall in the weeks prior to his killing, a Malaysian court heard Tuesday.
Indonesian Siti Aisyah received 400 ringgit (U.S. $102) in January 2017 after performing a series of pranks outside a Malaysian mall, lead investigator Wan Azirul Nizam Che Wan Aziz testified during cross examination.
Wan Azirul’s statement appears to bolster the defense claim that the woman was hoodwinked into believing that she was performing for a TV show when she helped smear a liquid substance on Kim’s face at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 on Feb. 13, 2017.
Prosecutors were trying to prove that Siti, along with 29-year-old Vietnamese woman Doan Thi Huong, smeared the deadly VX nerve agent on Kim Jong Nam’s face after receiving training from North Korean agents.
But the women have pleaded not guilty, always maintaining through their lawyers that they believed they were being paid to perform a televised prank.
Defense lawyer Gooi Soon Seng told reporters after the conclusion of Wan Azirul’s testimony that Siti met a Malaysian taxi driver who introduced her to a North Korean national identified as James (also known as Ri Ji U).
“At the Pavilion mall, Siti Aisyah was asked to watch a prank show done by another person and, subsequently, Siti Aisyah performed three pranks on the day itself and the prank was recorded by James,” Gooi said.
Testifying for the prosecution in November, Wan Azirul said he had asked the North Korean embassy for permission to interview James, but did not receive an answer. James was one of three men deported to Pyongyang in March 2017 in a diplomatic tradeoff between the two nations at the same time Kim’s body was returned to the hermit kingdom.
Four other North Korean men who were seen on CCTV footage at the airport and were identified as suspects fled Malaysia hours after the attack that killed dictator Kim Jong Un’s estranged sibling.
In court on Tuesday, Gooi asked Wan Azirul about Siti’s meeting with James, who was posing as a Japanese.
“I’m suggesting that taxi driver Kamarudin Masyod had approached the accused around 3 a.m. on Jan. 5, 2017, at the Beach Club in Kuala Lumpur,” Gooi said.
“I agree but I’m not sure of the dates,” Wan Azirul testified.
Gooi asked if the club meeting between Siti and Kamarudin was about an offer for Siti to act in a prank show and that the two met with James eight hours later at the mall.
“Yes, I agree,” Wan Azirul replied.
He also asked if Kamarudin had witnessed Siti practicing pranks that day.
“Yes, I agree,” the officer said.
As evidence, Gooi produced a photo showing Siti, James and Kamarudin at the mall together.
The trial is to resume on Feb. 8.
On Monday, Gooi questioned Wan Azirul about a meeting between Kim Jong Nam and a man identified as a “Korean-American based in Bangkok,” four days before the airport murder. The investigator told reporters he could not identify the man.
Wan Azirul confirmed that a laptop was sent to a forensics laboratory in Kuala Lumpur. He said it was last used on Feb. 9, 2017, but was unsure if Kim had passed along data to the man during the meeting or if the meeting was linked to the airport killing.
Gooi accused Wan Azirul of being evasive.
“Come on, you have a total lapse in memory?” he asked the witness, according to media reports. “You say you investigated but you’ve forgotten everything? Which hotel? What was this investigation for, if it wasn’t related to this case?”
Following Tuesday’s court session, Gooi expressed confidence in the defense case.
“Because so far we have not found anything that connects our client to the incident,” he said.