A police investigator testifying Thursday at the Kim Jong Nam murder trial described how, immediately before the killing, two suspects who are still at-large poured liquid on the hands of two defendants accused of smearing the victim’s face with a deadly nerve agent.
The suspects are among four men, believed to be North Koreans, who were named by case investigator Wan Azirul Nizam Che Wan Aziz on the eighth day of the trial of Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Vietnamese Doan Thi Hoang, as he testified for the prosecution.
The co-defendants could be sentenced to death, if convicted of murder charges in the fatal chemical attack against the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 on Feb. 13.
Police had identified the four suspects who are at-large as Mr. Chang, James, Mr. Y and Hanamori (alias Grandpa or Uncle), Wan Azirul told the Malaysian High Court in Shah Alam, near Kuala Lumpur.
The four were spotted on airport security videos and identified after investigators questioned the two women, he testified.
Airport surveillance video presented in court showed Doan walking in the airport with a man wearing a baseball cap, while Siti Aisyah was seen meeting separately with another man who also wore a cap at an airport café just before Kim was attacked at the crowded departure terminal.
Wan Azirul identified the two men as Mr. Y and Mr. Chang and said they were believed to have smeared liquid on the women’s hands before Aisyah and Doan touched Kim’s face.
As court officials played footage taken by airport security cameras, Wan Azirul testified that each of the men seen in the videos had played different roles in the plot, including putting what looked like a liquid substance on the hands of the two women.
“In this video, the accused Doan is walking with a man who is wearing a black cap and bringing a backpack. The man is said to be Mr. Y,” he said.
When Prosecutor Wan Shaharuddin asked Wan Azirul what was Mr. Y’s role, he replied:
“He is the individual who put liquid onto the hand of the second accused (Doan).”
“He is also the one who bought a taxi ticket for the first accused (Siti Aisyah),” he added.
Wan Azirul testified that Mr. Chang was also seen in the videos pouring liquid on Siti Aisyah’s hands.
The investigator did not elaborate on the roles of the two other men in the videos, but said Hanamori gave Mr. Y some instructions, while James recruited Siti Aisyah into the murder plot.
Wan Azirul, the prosecution’s ninth witness, did not say whether the four suspects he named were North Koreans or whether they were the same four people who Malaysian police had said left Kuala Lumpur on the day of Kim’s killing. He said the names were provided by Doan and Siti Aisyah during the police interview.
The investigator did not give more details about the four men during his testimony, but Prosecutor Wan Shaharuddin Wan Ladin told the Associated Press outside the court that the four were believed to be North Koreans.
Early on in their investigation, Malaysian police had named four North Koreans as suspects in the murder. The police identified the four as Rhi Ji Hyon, Hong Song Hak, O Jong Gil and Ri Jae Nam.
On March 16, Interpol issued a “red notice” for the four North Koreans, describing them as suspects in the Malaysian airport murder. The notice alerts police in Interpol’s list of 192 member countries, which does not include North Korea, to share information on the suspects.
According to the AP report, police said Chang was in fact Hong Song Hak and James was also known as Ri Ji U. The latter was one of three North Koreans identified by Malaysian police as persons sought for questioning in the murder probe. But they were allowed to return to North Korea along with Kim’s body on March 31, as part of a deal that ended a six-week diplomatic row between the two countries following Kim’s assassination.
The two defendants told police they were tricked into attacking Kim and thought they were merely playing a prank for a reality TV show.
Gooi Soon Seng, a lawyer representing Aisyah, previously told reporters that she was recruited in early January by a North Korean man known just as James to star in what he said were video prank shows, according to AP. James had her go to malls, hotels and airports and would film her as she rubbed oil or pepper sauce on strangers, paying Aisyah between $100 and $200 per prank.
James later introduced the Indonesian woman to a man called Chang, who said he was the producer of Chinese video-prank shows, AP quoted Aisyah’s lawyer as saying. On Feb. 13, Chang pointed Kim out to Aisyah as the next target and put the substance in her hand, the lawyer had said.
The 45-year-old Kim, the eldest son of the late North Korean leader Kim Jon Il, was attacked as he went to check in for a flight to Macau. Witnesses had testified that he immediately sought medical help at the airport but died in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.
In their opening statements at the start of the trial, prosecutors said they aimed to disprove the women’s claims that they were duped into playing a prank on Kim and did not know they were smearing a fast-acting poison, VX nerve agent, on his face.