Updated at 3:29 p.m. ET on 2017-11-20
The trial of two Southeast Asian women charged with murdering the half-brother of North Korea’s dictator at a Malaysian airport could last well into 2018, according to a lawyer for one of the defendants.
Since the trial of Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25, and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, 28, opened in early October, the prosecution has called 18 witnesses who have testified over 19 days of hearings. Prosecutors say they might call at least another 20 people to testify during nearly a dozen more days of courtroom sessions, which the judge has set for January, February and March.
And then defense lawyers will present their case if Judge Azmi Ariffin decides the prosecution has built a solid case against the defendants, according to Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, a lawyer representing Doan. The judge could decide to acquit the women if he determines the prosecution has not met its burden.
“It may drag into the middle of next year as the prosecution will do its submission and we will present our case,” Hisyam told BenarNews. “Then the judge will have to make a decision and it will take some time for him to do that.”
The two women stand accused of conspiring with four North Korean men, who later fled the country, in the Feb. 13 murder of Kim Jong Nam at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2.
Government officials from Malaysia, South Korea and the United States have accused agents from the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un of being behind the attack where his estranged half-brother was poisoned to death with a banned nerve agent, according to Malaysian police.
On Monday in Washington, U.S. President Donald Trump appeared to allude to Kim Jong Nam’s murder when he announced the United States was “designating North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism.”
“In addition to threatening the world by nuclear devastation, North Korea has repeatedly supported acts of international terrorism, including assassinations on foreign soil,” Trump said before a cabinet meeting, adding that the designation would lead to “further sanctions and penalties on North Korea and related persons,” according to a transcript from the White House.
In early November, U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster accused Kim Jong Un of being behind his brother’s murder in Malaysia and warned that this “act of terrorism” could result in North Korea being re-listed by the United States as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Who murdered KJN?
The trial in Malaysia is scheduled to resume on Nov. 27.
Prosecutor Wan Shaharuddin Wan Ladin said the focus of his case was to prove who murdered Kim Jong Nam instead of “looking for something that is not there.”
“The prosecution case is so far, so good. We are putting pressure on the defense and we are still waiting for them to disclose their defense,” he told BenarNews.
Wan Shaharuddin also responded to questions about how, through cross-examination, the defense team had attacked testimony given by a key witness for the prosecution, Wan Azirul Nizam Che Wan Aziz, who led the police’s investigation into the murder.
“The conduct of the investigation, for us, is not that important. We are focusing on who murdered KJN, who had caused the death. Besides, there is no single case where the investigation is perfectly done,” he said. “We don’t look for something that is not there.”
Once the prosecution rests its case, the judge could determine there is no case against the two women, meaning he could order them freed. If not, the defense could spend another few months presenting its case and calling witnesses to the stand, Hisyam said.
The women, who face the death penalty if convicted, pleaded not guilty and have claimed they thought that they were taking part in a prank for a reality TV show. They are accused of accosting Kim and smearing the deadly VX nerve agent on his face at the airport’s departure terminal.
“The real culprits were the four North Korean named in the court. My client and Mr Gooi’s client were the scapegoats,” Hisyam said.
He added that prosecutors have done their best to put Siti Aisyah and Doan at the scene of the crime by providing closed-circuit television footage and by proving that VX was used to kill Kim Jong Nam.
“But it was all circumstantial evidence. By virtue they were trying to put the murder on both the accused with all this evidence. It’s the best evidence they have,” Hisyam said.
Prosecutors have to prove that the women knew that the liquid on their hands was toxic and that they intended to kill Kim Jong Nam, he added.
“In the earlier trial session, I asked the chemical weapon expert about it,” the defense lawyer said. “That if someone who has no knowledge of VX, has a liquid put on his or her hand, it has no smell or taste, would he or she know it was VX?”
“The answer was no.”
Fadzil Aziz in Shah Alam, Malaysia, contributed to this report.