Malaysia: Defense Casts Doubt on Women’s Link to VX Agent

Hareez Lee, N. Nantha and Fadzil Aziz
Shah Alam, Malaysia
170803-MALAYSIA-620.jpg Police officers escort Indonesian Siti Aisyah (second from left) to the Shah Alam court complex outside Kuala Lumpur during the second day of her trial on charges that she and Vietnamese Doan Thi Hoang murdered Kim Jong Nam, Oct. 3, 2017.

Under pressure from defense attorneys, a pathologist told a Malaysian court on Tuesday it was possible based on blood tests to conclude that the two women accused of murdering Kim Jong Nam had no contact with the chemical which killed him.

Blood samples taken from Kim’s body also showed very low levels of cholinesterase, which is consistent with nerve-agent poisoning, Kuala Lumpur General Hospital pathologist Norashikin Othman testified.

The pathologist took the witness stand during the second day of the trial of two Southeast Asian women charged with murdering the half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un at a Malaysian airport.

“Such a condition could have been caused either by the work of a nerve agent or pesticide,” Norashikin said.

Cholinesterase is an enzyme that controls muscles and very low levels can lead to organ failure.

The two defendants, Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25, and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, 28, are accused of killing Kim Jong Nam by allegedly smearing his face with the banned VX nerve agent at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Feb. 13.

A normal cholinesterase level would be between 5,320 and 12,290 units per liter of blood, but Kim’s level was 344, Norashikin testified. By comparison, enzyme readings for Siti and Huong yielded normal results of 6,781 and 7,163, respectively.

The defendants, who could face the death penalty if convicted, pleaded not guilty on Monday to murdering Kim. Previously, the two women claimed they thought they were involved in some sort of prank while being filmed as part of a reality TV show.

Norashikin agreed with the prosecution that nerve agents such as VX could have triggered the low enzyme levels. But she also agreed with defense lawyers that the low levels could have been caused by a liver disease or by a man taking female hormones.

During questioning, Norashikin said it was possible the two women had no contact with the VX poison, but she also said they could have washed their hands with soap and water or ingested an antidote after being exposed to a low dose.

‘Taken by surprise’

After court adjourned, Gooi Soon Seng, Siti’s attorney, complained that the prosecution had not turned over pathology reports confirming the two women’s normal enzyme level, which would bolster their defense.

“This piece of evidence was never served to us, and we were taken by surprise by the attitude of the prosecution because they were supposed to disclose all favorable and unfavorable evidence to the defense,” he told reporters. “That is an important factor for us.”

If the two defendants had normal levels of cholinesterase, then they did not handle VX poison, he said.

“If she applied this VX, why is her level of cholinesterase normal? If you are exposed to it, your level must be equally low or lower,” he said, referring to his client.


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