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SHAH ALAM, Malaysia (3rd UPDATE) – Two women accused of the Cold War-style assassination of the half-brother of North Korea’s leader in Malaysia will go on trial in October, a judge said Friday, July 28.
Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong are accused of rubbing the highly toxic VX nerve agent in the face of Kim Jong-Nam as he waited to board a plane at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in February.
The women, who may face the death penalty if convicted, deny carrying out the killing and say they were duped into believing they were taking part in a reality TV show.
Seoul accuses North Korea of being behind the murder of Kim Jong-Un’s estranged relative, which sparked a serious diplomatic row between Malaysia and the North. Pyongyang denies the allegation.
At a heavily guarded court outside the capital, the women, both in their 20s, arrived wearing bullet-proof vests and handcuffs, and were taken past a waiting pack of journalists.
Judge Azmi Ariffin told the 30-minute hearing at the High Court in Shah Alam that the trial would begin on October 2 and would be completed within about two months.
“I am making a ruling that both the cases will be tried jointly,” he told the packed courtroom.
The two accused were brought into the courtroom in handcuffs wearing traditional Malaysian dresses. They looked nervous but occasionally smiled to their lawyers and embassy officials.
After the hearing, Aisyah, 25, started sobbing, and one of her lawyers patted her back to calm her down.
Prosecutor Muhammad Iskandar Ahmad said 30 to 40 witnesses would be called. The women’s lawyers said they would enter pleas at the start of the trial in October.
Gooi Soon Seng, Aisyah’s lawyer, said the Indonesian’s defence would centre on her claim that she believed she was playing a prank.
He also said he had doubts about the experts’ report showing that VX, a chemical described by the United Nations as a weapon of mass destruction, was used in the killing.
“We doubt the report. They said they found traces of ‘precursor and degrading product’ of VX. What does that mean? They never said that is VX,” he said.
Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, a lawyer for Huong, said the judge had decided to take the women’s pleas at the start of the trial. The women’s lawyers had previously said they expected the pair to enter not guilty pleas on Friday.
Seoul accuses North Korea of being behind the murder of Kim Jong-Un’s estranged relative, a charge Pyongyang denies.
The murder – which took place as Kim Jong-Nam was about to board a flight to Macau – sparked a serious diplomatic row between Malaysia and North Korea, with Kuala Lumpur expelling the North’s ambassador and Pyongyang banning Malaysians from leaving the country.
Tensions eased when Malaysia agreed to the return of Kim body to Pyongyang. Under the terms of that agreement, 9 Malaysians prevented from leaving Pyongyang were freed and 3 North Koreans in Malaysia were allowed to go home.
Police are still trying to trace 4 North Koreans suspected of having taken part in the murder plot but who are believed to have returned to their capital immediately after the killing.
The murder in Kuala Lumpur removed a potential claimant to the leadership of the reclusive nation – Kim Jong-Nam was late leader Kim Jong-Il’s first born – who was an embarrassment to Pyongyang, which has caused global alarm with its atomic weapons program. – Rappler.com