A Vietnamese woman accused of using a chemical warfare agent to kill the half-brother of North Korea’s leader was “in good condition” to testify for the first time when her trial in Malaysia resumes next week, her lawyer said Friday.
Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong is expected to take the witness stand on Monday – with the trial’s defense phase scheduled to begin more than two years after Kim Jong Nam was assassinated as he checked in for an AirAsia flight at a Kuala Lumpur airport on Feb.13, 2017.
Prosecutors said Doan and Indonesian co-defendant Siti Aisyah approached Kim, the estranged half-sibling of Pyongyang dictator Kim Jong Un, and smeared a colorless and odorless substance across his face. Kim Jong Nam died about 20 minutes later.
“She is in good condition and confident to go on the stand,” Salim Bashir, one of the three lawyers representing Doan, told BenarNews. “We will examine her by way of questioning, and later the prosecution will cross-examine her.”
Both women have pleaded not guilty, with their lawyers arguing that they were misled into thinking that they were taking part in a prank for a Japanese comedy show on YouTube.
Prosecutors have argued that the two Southeast Asian women, along with four North Korean suspects at large, took part in a premeditated attack and also practiced for it in advance.
Salim said Doan will begin her testimony at the Shah Alam High Court by reading her sworn statement in Vietnamese, which will then be translated into English by an interpreter.
On Aug. 16, 2018, Judge Azmi Ariffin ordered the two women to remain in custody after ruling that the prosecution had presented enough evidence to move the trial to its defense phase.
Had the judge ruled in favor of the women, they could have been acquitted. But Azmi said “credible” evidence had pointed to a “simultaneous act” by the women.
In his ruling, the judge emphasized that he could not rule out that there had been a “well-planned conspiracy” between the women and the North Korean suspects, who fled the country after the assassination.
He called into question the defense argument that the two were carrying out a prank, saying there was no clear explanation why Doan had rushed to the bathroom to wash her hands after smearing the victim’s face with a liquid.
Over the course of the trial, prosecutors laid out a bizarre plot claiming that the two women had been recruited by four North Korean operatives. They said the women, who were working in Kuala Lumpur as escorts, were trained as assassins to use VX, which has been classified by the United Nations as a weapon of mass destruction.
In January this year, Siti won an appeal to obtain statements given to police by seven witnesses. Her defense lawyers said the documents were crucial to providing a clearer picture on what took place at the airport.
Her lawyer, Gooi Soon Seng, said the Appeal Court overturned the lower court’s ruling that the statements were privileged, and ordered prosecutors to provide such documents to the defense. But Gooi told the Associated Press that the order has been put on hold pending prosecutors’ appeal to the Federal Court.
“If we are allowed to see the statements, then we will get a fairer trial,” Gooi told reporters. “If we do not get a fair trial, where do we get justice?”
Doan’s lead attorney, Hisyam Teh Pok Teik, told a news conference in November last year that his side never applied to have access to the statements because the witnesses discussed in the documents were irrelevant for his client’s defense.
“We have about five or six witnesses,” he said. “One or two might be local while the rest are foreign.”
But Naran Singh, the other lawyer in Doan’s team, told BenarNews on Friday that the number of witnesses have been revised down to four, with one more witness still unable to confirm her availability.
“It is a foreign witness and she is declining to come, so we are working on finding a way to sort this,” Singh said, as he expressed confidence on Doan’s preparedness to face cross-examination.
“We are confident that upon hearing the entire evidence, I think one can say that she is innocent,” he said.
The assassination bruised diplomatic relations between Kuala Lumpur and Pyongyang. Washington also imposed sanctions on North Korea in response to the murder.
If found guilty, Doan and Siti face a mandatory death sentence.
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.