SHAH ALAM, Malaysia — A chemist’s report that shows the banned VX nerve agent was used to kill the half brother of North Korea’s leader needs further scrutiny, a lawyer for one of the two women accused of poisoning the man said Friday as he examined evidence ahead of a trial set for October.
High Court Judge Azmi Ariffin set an Oct. 2 trial date for Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, who are accused of smearing Kim Jong Nam’s face with banned VX nerve agent at a crowded airport terminal in Kuala Lumpur on Feb. 13. He died about 20 minutes later.
The women, who face a possible death penalty if convicted, say they were duped into thinking they were playing a harmless prank for a hidden-camera TV show.
Prosecutor Muhamad Iskandar Ahmad said he plans to call up to 40 witnesses, including 10 experts and a few foreigners.
The women appeared in court wearing traditional Malay dresses, smiling at their lawyers and embassy officials. They were handcuffed as they were led to the dock.
But after the judge left the room, Aisyah was in tears as her lawyer debriefed her.
The two women are the only suspects in custody in a killing that South Korea’s spy agency said was part of a five-year plot by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to kill a brother he reportedly never met. Malaysian police have said four North Korean suspects fled the country the same day Kim Jong Nam was killed.
Gooi Soon Seng, Aisyah’s lawyer, told reporters that “traces of precursors of VX and degrading products of VX” were found on Kim’s face and the women’s clothing based on government documents.
He said the defense has to engage expert opinion to establish if this meant that the poison used was VX or some other chemical.
VX is supposed to be very potent and even 0.1 milliliters is enough to kill a person. “But we can say that there were no side effects on the two women,” Gooi said.
“We have doubts over the accuracy of the report. We are seeking evidence that VX is used. The burden of proof is on the prosecution,” Gooi said.
Whether VX or not, Gooi said their core defense was that Aisyah didn’t know she had poison on her hand at the time.
“A crime constitutes an act and a guilty intention. There was no guilty intention on her part. She didn’t know what she was applying,” he added.
Earlier, prosecutors provided airport camera footage to the defense. Gooi said it included a video of a prank played by Aisyah on someone else at the airport. He didn’t give further details.
North Korea has a history of ordering killings of people it views as threats to its regime. While Kim Jong Nam was not thought to be seeking influence, his status as eldest son in the current generation of North Korea’s founding family could have made him appear to be a danger to his half brother’s rule.
Pyongyang has denied any role in the killing and has not even acknowledged that the dead man was Kim Jong Nam.