Malaysian prosecutors on Thursday rested their case against two Southeast Asian women accused of wiping the lethal VX nerve agent on the face of the North Korean leader’s estranged half-brother during an airport attack.
After the court session, defense attorneys claimed that despite presenting 34 witnesses, prosecutors did not establish a clear motive in the Feb. 13, 2017, murder of Kim Jong Nam at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2.
The women – Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25 and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, 29 – are on trial at the Shah Alam court complex in Selangor state. They face the death penalty if found guilty. Meanwhile, four North Korean suspects who flew out of Malaysia hours after the killing remain at large.
During the 39 days of trial that began on Oct. 2, 2017, prosecutors tried to prove the women knew they were handling a lethal nerve agent when they smeared it on Kim’s face.
The duo’s lawyers, on the other hand, argued the women were duped by suspected North Korean agents into believing they were playing a harmless prank for a reality TV show.
The judge said closing oral arguments in the trial will begin on June 27.
Lawyers said that after the closing arguments, the court will decide if there is a case against the women before calling on the defense to present its witnesses. If the court finds that there is no case, they will be freed.
Speaking to reporters during a court break on Thursday, Doan’s lawyer, Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, said he brought a strong argument to prove his client’s innocence.
“We are convinced because that is the truth,” he said. “The prosecution has to prove the question of either knowledge or motive.”
Kim’s murder drew negative attention to what had been a close relationship between Pyongyang and Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia was among a handful of countries that maintained ties with North Korea, which has been under international sanctions over its nuclear weapons program.
But a diplomatic row erupted after North Korea announced it was barring Malaysians from exiting its country until Malaysia returned Kim’s body and allowed two North Koreans, who were wanted for questioning, to leave.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak condemned North Korea’s move and likened it to holding his countrymen as hostages. He responded by downgrading ties with North Korea.
South Korea claimed the airport murder was part of a carefully set plot by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to kill a sibling he reportedly never met.
On Thursday, chemical weapons expert Raja Subramaniam told the court the Malaysian laboratory that tested the VX allegedly used to kill Kim was not on the list of centers approved by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the global chemical weapons watchdog.
Labs need to maintain a certain standard to be on the OPCW list, Raja said, adding the center must participate in proficiency testing at least once a year.
After the court session ended, the defense attorneys underscored the prosecution’s weaknesses, including the absence of four main North Korean suspects.
“We cannot question them or question their involvement in this case,” Hisyam told reporters.
Siti’s lawyer, Gooi Soon Seng, asked why the North Koreans were allowed to leave.
“We say the motive in this murder is related to politics, and it might have been a political killing,” he said. “If they are still here, we can prove the motive in this case is mere politics and not something else.”