Two Southeast Asian women will return to a Malaysian courtroom on Monday following a seven-week break as their trial resumes on charges that they murdered the half-brother of North Korea’s dictator, with prosecutors expecting to rest their case by March.
The defendants, Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, face a mandatory death sentence under Malaysian law, if convicted of murdering Kim Jong Nam. They stand accused of killing him in a chemical weapon attack at a Kuala Lumpur airport, by accosting him and smearing the nerve agent VX on his face, on Feb. 13, 2017.
The women pleaded not guilty and have claimed they thought they were taking part in a prank for a reality TV show. Four North Korean men, who were named as suspects by Malaysian police, fled Malaysia on the day of the attack at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2.
Prosecutor Wan Shaharuddin Wan Ladin described the case as difficult for both sides.
“It is still an uphill battle for us, still 50-50. But again, action speaks louder than words and the burden is on them to prove that it was a prank,” Wan Shaharuddin told BenarNews.
The trial, which began in October at the Shah Alam High Court and was last in session on Nov. 30, is expected to resume with defense attorneys cross examining the lead police investigator. The schedule calls for court sessions to be held on five days in January, two in February and four in March.
Prior to the break, prosecutors had called 26 witnesses and could call another 20 as the trial resumes.
“I think by March we can wrap up the case. The only key witness left is the investigating officer,” Wan Shaharuddin said.
‘There are many gaps’
Lead investigating officer Wan Azirul Nizam Che Wan Aziz previously testified that Doan, 29, and Siti Aisyah, 26, were caught on the airport’s surveillance cameras attacking Kim at about 9:30 a.m. on Feb. 13, before fleeing into restrooms and then heading to the airport’s taxi terminal. He also testified about the four North Korean men who were investigated for their potential roles in the killing.
Doan attorney Hisyam Teh Poh Teik said the defense was looking forward to cross-examining Wan Azirul.
“I have many things to ask him. There are many gaps. We are looking at three days for cross-examination. The defense counsel for Siti Aisyah, Gooi Soon Seng will cross-examine the IO [Investigating Officer] first, then me,” he told BenarNews on Friday.
The investigator is one of three key witnesses who are equally important to the prosecution and defense teams, Hisyam said. The others have already testified.
“To us, the most important person and the most crucial time period during this trial is when the IO is being called to testify,” he said.
He said the defense was hoping that the court does not call the defendants to take the stand, but if that happens, he has four or five other witnesses to call.
“It’s too premature to talk about the witnesses. But Doan’s full defense will be known when we cross-examine the IO,” he said.
The defense team has argued that the murder of the estranged half-sibling of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un was politically motivated, and therefore an assassination, because at least three of the men named as suspects were driven to the airport in a minivan bought by a North Korean embassy official.
Siti Aisyah’s attorney told the Associated Press on Friday the defense’s efforts had been hampered by missing evidence, specifically Kim Jong Nam’s mobile phone, which was returned to North Korea with his body weeks after his death.
“The content of his phone is vital because it could show how he arrived at the airport, who he linked up with in Malaysia, what actually happened. Until now, there is no evidence of possible debts, love affairs or revenge that could cause someone to take his life,” Gooi said. “We are saying it’s a political assassination because of the involvement of the North Korean Embassy.”