Malaysia has charged an Indonesian and Vietnamese woman with the murder of the estranged half-brother of North Korea's leader. Both face the mandatory death penalty by hanging if found guilty.
Malaysia on Wednesday charged an Indonesian and Vietnamese woman with the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korea's leader.
The women, Siti Aisyah and Doan Thi Huong, were presented in an isolated magistrate court outside of Kuala Lumpur where the charges against them were read out. Authorities accuse the two women of smearing the fatal VX nerve agent, which was developed for chemical warfare, into Kim's face at Kuala Lumpur airport on February 13.
Both face the mandatory death penalty by hanging if found guilty.
The women did not enter pleas because the court has no jurisdiction over a murder case. Lead prosecutor Iskander Ahmad said he would ask that the trial be moved to a higher court and that both women be tried to together.
The women have protested their innocence, claiming they thought they were taking part in a harmless prank video. Siti reportedly told an Indonesian diplomat she was paid 400 ringgit ($90) for the "prank," adding that she believed she was handling a liquid similar to "baby oil."
The Indonesian Foreign Ministry's spokesperson, Arrmanatha Nasir, said the accused Indonesian's lawyers had already begun preparing her defense and that he expects Malaysia to uphold a legal process based on the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.
"Is she an intelligence agent or not? Let's see the hearing process and what she says through her lawyers," Nasir said. "If there is information like that, of course we would get it either from our own intelligence services or from foreign intelligence services which have cooperation with us, and so far we have no such information."
Blood on Pyongyang's hands?
Speculation that North Korea was behind the assassination remains rampant. While Malaysian prosecutors have not directly accused the Pyongyang of masterminding the hit, authorities have detained North Korean embassy official in connection with the case and are seeking seven more North Korean nationals.
South Korea has accused its northern neighbor albeit without presenting any evidence. Experts, however, maintain that the sophisticated agent must have been developed in a state weapons laboratory.
North Korea maintains that it had no involvement in the attack. It has also refused to confirm that the victim was leader Kim Jong Un's estranged brother.
However, Pyongyang has a long and lurid history of ordering killings of people it views as threats. Kim Jong Nam fell out with his family in 2001 after he attempted to enter Japan on a fake passport. While he was not believed to be seeking political power, his position as the eldest son of North Korea's ruling family could have made him appear as a danger.
North Korea insists body be returned
North Korea sent over a high-level delegation to Kuala Lumpur to seek custody of the body and the release of the North Korean embassy official.
Malaysia has so far refused to give up the body without receiving DNA samples and confirmation with next of kin. North Korea has also voiced its displeasure that Malaysian authorities have already conducted an autopsy of Kim's body
Delegate Ri Tong Il, North Korea's former deputy ambassador to the UN, told reporters that the delegation also wants "development of the friendly relationship" with Malaysia, which is one of the few countries that maintains relations with the isolated state.
dm/bw (AP, AFP, Reuters)