A Malaysian defense lawyer on Thursday bolstered his courtroom argument that the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korea’s dictator, was politically motivated and therefore nothing short of an assassination.
Gooi Soon Seng, an attorney representing one of two Southeast Asian women charged in the case, emphasized a political link to it a day after focusing on the possible involvement of North Korean embassy officials in the Cold War-style murder at a Kuala Lumpur airport on Feb. 13.
“The evidence points to the fact that there is every reason to believe that this is a political assassination because the people who were the main suspects, who changed their clothes and ran away the same day, left the country on the same day,” Gooi told reporters Thursday, at the end of the trial’s 15th day.
Gooi’s client, Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25, and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, 28, are standing trial on charges of conspiring in the murder with four North Korean men who fled the country on the day of the killing at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2.
As he tried to expose weaknesses in the police probe, Gooi on Thursday pressed lead case investigator Wan Azirul Nizam Che Wan Aziz with questions during cross-examination over what he described as a lack of effort by authorities to compel a key witness to testify.
Gooi identified the missing witness as Ri Jong Chol, a North Korean IT expert and chemist. His rented condominium was raided by police on suspicion that it was turned into a clandestine laboratory for making the nerve agent that killed Kim Jong Nam.
Ri Jong, who was remanded to police custody for about two weeks soon after the murder, was deported to Pyongyang on March 3 after officials said they lacked evidence to press charges against him.
Gooi questioned why police did not seize Ri Jong’s clothing or take nail clippings for chemical analysis.
“If they have done a proper investigation, we would have found that there will be evidence to connect him [Ri Jong Chol] with the four people who escaped, who are the main culprits,” Gooi told reporters after the hearing.
On Wednesday, defense attorneys also began linking Pyongyang to the killing after the lead case investigator told the court that three men wanted in the killing were driven to the airport in a minivan bought by a North Korean embassy official.
Gooi stressed that the killing was politically motivated as there was no evidence showing that the female defendants had any motive.
“In every murder there must be a motive. Kim Jong Nam was carrying thousands of U.S. dollars, but the money was not taken,” Gooi said. “Was it revenge? Was it jealousy? There is no evidence to show that.”
Earlier in the trial, Wan Azirul said investigators found $100,000 in a backpack the victim carried when he was attacked at the airport.
Both women have pleaded not guilty and have argued they thought they were taking part in a prank for a reality TV show. They are accused of accosting Kim and smearing a deadly chemical, VX nerve agent, on his face at the airport’s departure terminal.
The two face the death penalty if convicted.
Confiscated money not sent out for chemical analysis
During his cross-examination Thursday morning, Wan Azirul said police seized a bottle of chloride, two gloves, a toothbrush, cellphones, computers and U.S. $38,000 in cash when law-enforcement officers raided Ri Jong Chol’s condo.
But when defense lawyers asked if he had requested assistance from the government’s Chemistry Department to detect the presence of VX in the condo, Wan Azirul said no. The confiscated items, except for the money, were sent to the department for analysis.
Wan Azirul also testified that he did not seize Ri Jong Chol’s clothes or take samples of the North Korean’s nail clippings because he “felt that it was not necessary” at that time.
Wan Azirul said he had interviewed Ri Jong Chol only once before he was deported to North Korea. He said he did not apply for a subpoena requiring the North Korean to take the witness stand as he did not receive that order from his superiors.
North Korean officials have denied allegations of involvement in the airport killing.
Hadi Azmi in Shah Alam contributed to this report.