Lawyers for two Southeast Asian women charged with the murder of the half-brother of North Korea’s leader on Thursday accused Malaysian authorities of withholding evidence for their defense, including statements gathered from three North Koreans who were allowed to go home.
The women, Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Vietnamese Doan Thi Hoang, appeared for a hearing Thursday at the Sepang Magistrate’s Court under tight security. They potentially face the death penalty over allegations that they fatally poisoned Kim Jong Nam with an internationally banned chemical agent at a Kuala Lumpur area airport two months ago.
The attorneys representing the women said police had not responded to requests for evidence vital to the case, including CCTV footage of the attack and statements given to police by three North Korean men whom Malaysian authorities had initially named as suspects in Kim’s murder.
“There shall be no trial by ambush,” Gooi Soon Seng, Aiysah’s lawyer, told the court.
Gooi added that Ri Ji U (also known as James), one of the three North Koreans allowed to return to Pyongyang on March 30 along with Kim’s body, was a person “central to our defense.”
“James played a key role in our defense, particularly [for] Siti Aisyah,” the lawyer said.
“They were no longer persons of interest .... So we should be allowed to have access to the statements.
Justice has to be seen to be done and, importantly, for the accused to be given a fair trial,” Gooi said.
The North Koreans were allowed to leave Malaysia as part of a deal that ended a six-week bilateral diplomatic feud following the Feb. 13 murder.
South Korea, the United States and Malaysia’s prime minister had accused North Korea’s government of orchestrating the murder of the half-brother of dictator Kim Jong Un.
‘We always cooperate with counsels’
During the 30-minute hearing, prosecutor Muhammad Iskandar Ahmad responded by arguing that statements recorded by police were classified as privilege documents under Malaysia’s Criminal Procedural Code, and therefore police were not obligated to hand them over to the defense.
Judge Harith Sham Mohamed Yasin adjourned the case till May 30.
Doan and Aisyah were both charged with murder on March 1. Apart from the three North Koreans who were allowed to go home, Malaysian authorities named four other North Koreans as suspects in Kim’s homicide. Those suspects are believed to have fled Malaysia on the day Kim was attacked at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2.
The four were mentioned, though not identified by name, on the charge-sheets.
Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, the lawyer representing Doan, told the court that he had asked police to furnish evidence such as photos and records of communications on two phones seized from his client.
“Her two phones have been confiscated and police should disclose the records as it has vital and important information regarding the case,” he said.
Elsewhere, Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar responded to the complaints from the defense lawyers by suggesting that their requests might not have gone through the proper channels.
“It is impossible because we always cooperate with counsels in terms of providing documents to them,” he told reporters in Kuala Lumpur. “No, there must have been a communications breakdown somewhere.”
Yet, Khalid noted, not all documents related to the case can necessarily be released.
“It is up to us, with the clearance from AG [the attorney general] what documents can be given and need not be given. You can’t be getting everything,” the police inspector-general said.
Investigators were satisfied with the information given by the three North Koreans and the case had not been compromised by Malaysia’s decision to let them go home, Khalid added.
Cousin says suspect is innocent
The two young women, who are the only suspects currently in custody in a case that has grabbed world headlines, have told police they were duped into carrying out the murder by being led to believe that they were playing a prank as part of a TV reality show.
The women were both spotted on CCTV footage during the airport attack on Kim, according to police. The seven North Korean suspects were also filmed by CCTV cameras at the airport on the day of the attack, police said.
Doan’s cousin, Tran Huy Hoang, 23, who was in Sepang for Thursday’s hearing, told reporters outside the courthouse that her family believes she was framed.
“She would not participate in the plot if she knew it’s a crime," Tran said.
His cousin, he said, had graduated from a university in Vietnam and could speak English and Korean.
Tran, however, was barred from entering the court or the courthouse compound because he was not accompanied by Doan’s father.
The father, Doan Van Thanh, had been advised by his daughter to stay at the Vietnamese embassy in Kuala Lumpur for his own safety, Tran told reporters.
Tran and his uncle had arrived in Malaysia on Monday and met with Doan for an hour on Wednesday, he said.
She looked healthy and was eating well, Tran reported.
“She wants her father to stay at the embassy until he returns to Vietnam,” he said.
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.