Kim Jong Nam murder suspect ‘thought face-smearing was prank for show’

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A Vietnamese woman accused of killing the North Korean leader’s estranged half-brother told police she realised she had been used to murder him after she was detained, her lawyer has said.

Doan Thi Huong and co-defendant Siti Aisyah, from Indonesia, were charged with murdering Kim Jong Nam at Kuala Lumpur’s airport on February 13 last year.

The two are the only suspects in custody, though prosecutors have said four North Koreans who fled the country were also involved.

The court heard earlier that Huong told police after she was detained last year that she was recruited by a Korean man known as Mr Y in a Hanoi bar in December 2016.

Doan Thi Huong is escorted by police as she arrives for a court hearing at Shah Alam High Court in Malaysia (Sadiq Asyraf/AP)
Doan Thi Huong (Sadiq Asyraf/AP)

On Tuesday, the court heard that Huong thought she was playing a harmless prank for a hidden camera show and only knew Mr Kim was dead after police told her.

Her lawyer, Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, said Huong told police that Mr Y put an oily substance on her hands and told her to rub her hands together before smearing it on Mr Kim’s face, but that she did not know it was VX nerve agent.

Huong said she did not think the substance was poisonous because it did not burn her skin and she was not sickened by it, Mr Teh said.

She told police Mr Y did not ask her to wash her hands or keep her hands away from her body but that she did so on her own because the substance was oily, smelly and felt uncomfortable, Mr Teh said.

Huong went to a toilet on another floor to wash her hands because Mr Y had told her to leave the scene immediately after the prank, he said.

The court heard that Huong was told by Mr Y that the video on February 13 would be important because it would be uploaded on YouTube.

She told police she was not able to contact Mr Y after that.

Huong returned to the airport two days later to carry out another prank but there was no sign of Mr Y and she was detained at the airport.

“He is liar. He used me to do video on 13/02/2017 for him,” she said in her police statement, read out by Mr Teh.

Huong told police she was given Johnson’s baby cream for a similar prank at the airport two days before the attack on Mr Kim, and did not wash it off.

Mr Teh was cross-examining chief police investigator Wan Azirul Nizam Che Wan Aziz, who disagreed with the lawyer’s assertion that Huong was tricked into carrying out the killing and was a scapegoat.

He agreed however that Huong, who entered Malaysia on February 4, could have fled the country and disposed of her VX-tainted clothing if she had known she was given VX to kill Mr Kim.

Mr Teh told the court that instead, Huong had a flight ticket to return to Hanoi on February 23.

The two women face the death penalty if convicted, but not if they lacked intent to kill.

Prosecutors contend the women, who were both seen on security videos holding their hands away from their bodies as they rushed to wash off the oily liquid, knew they were handling poison.

Siti Aisyah (Sadiq Asyraf/AP)
Siti Aisyah (Sadiq Asyraf/AP)

The Vietnamese man who made those videos gave the court sworn statements that he recruited Huong, whom he knew just as “Baby”, to act in his videos because he could not come to Malaysia to give evidence.

Mr Teh also presented a video clip obtained from Vietnamese police showing Huong playing a prank at Hanoi’s airport on February 2 last year and being paid 100 dollars for it.

He told reporters that the target, a Vietnamese civil servant, was willing to come to Malaysia to give evidence if needed.

Mr Kim, the eldest son in the family that has ruled North Korea since its founding, had been living abroad for years after falling out of favour.

It is thought he was assassinated because he was perceived to be a threat to the rule of his half-brother, Kim Jong Un.

Malaysian officials have never officially accused North Korea of involvement in Mr Kim’s death and have made it clear they do not want the trial politicised.

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