- Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, was killed at Kuala Lumpur airport in February 2017 after two women smeared VX nerve agent on his face.
- Both women have consistently claimed their innocence, saying instead they thought they were taking part in a prank TV show.
- The trial ended abruptly on Monday when the only remaining defendant pleaded guilty to a comparatively minor charge of "causing hurt," instead of the initial charge of murder.
- The other defendant was released last month with no formal explanation. Neither woman had testified in the trial.
- There are a number of unexplained mysteries and inconsistencies in the case, which could now may never be cleared up.
The trial into the assassination of the half-brother of Kim Jong Un ended on Monday without testimony from either defendant.
The resultant lack of detail on how Kim Jong Nam’s assassination really went down could turn the death into a mystery forever.
A Vietnamese woman, Doan Thi Huong, and an Indonesian woman, Siti Aisyah, were accused of killing Kim Jong Nam after smearing the lethal nerve agent VX on his face at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Malaysia, in February 2017.
The video below shows footage of the assassination, obtained by Japan’s Fuji TV channel and annotated by the UK’s Channel 5 News.
Both women were originally charged with murder, but denied it. In Malaysia, murder is punishable with death.
While the women accept that they rubbed a substance into Kim’s face, they have said they did not know what it was, and thought they thought they were taking part in a prank TV show.
Kim was the eldest son of North Korean’s former leader Kim Jong Il and one of his mistresses. He was once considered a potential successor.
The murder trial, which started in October 2017, has been mired in multiple delays and ended abruptly, without the murder charges being fully litigated.
On Monday Doan Thi Huong, the Vietnamese defendant, pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of voluntarily "causing hurt by a dangerous weapon" — in this case the nerve agent — and was sentenced to 40 months in jail.
The sentence will be counted for her February 2017 arrest, which would give her a release date of June 2020.
However, her lawyer told reporters that Huong would be freed in this May, less than two months after her guilty plea, because of a a one-third reduction in her sentence for good behavior, The Associated Press reported.
Lai Seng Sin/Reuters
Last month Malaysian prosecutors unexpectedly dropped murder charges against Aisyah.
Neither the judge presiding over the case nor prosecutors explained the reasoning behind the early release.
Malaysian Attorney General Tommy Thomas said it came after lobbying from the Indonesian government, and that Malaysia made the decision "taking into account the good relations" between the two countries.
The end of the case means that neither Huong nor Aisyah were able to testify.
Their testimonies would have provided an important glimpse into how the two women were involved in the plot and who recruited them.
There are still a number of unexplained mysteries and inconsistencies about the case — and now they may never be resolved.
The defendants said they thought it was a prank, not an assassination
The two women have claimed to know nothing about any assassination plot. Aisyah said she was recruited to be part of a Japanese prank show in January 2017, five weeks before the assassination.
She said her "trainers" led her through luxury hotels, malls, and airports in Malaysia and Cambodia, where she practiced smearing oil and hot sauce on Chinese-looking men, GQ reported in September 2017. It’s not clear if Huong received the same training.
Aisyah’s handlers — a man who purported to be Japanese, and another who purported to be Chinese — were later revealed to be North Korean agents, GQ reported.
Malaysia singled out four North Korean suspects in the murder, but they fled the country on the day of the assassination. Their whereabouts are not known.
According to GQ, Aisyah was so convinced by the gameshow cover story that she even thought her arrest and imprisonment were part of the prank.
Andreano Erwin, the acting Indonesian ambassador in Malaysia, told GQ: "The first time we visited her, she kept asking when she could leave the jail. The second, she complained that she still hadn’t been paid for the last prank. The third time, she accused us of being part of the prank."
"The fourth time, we showed her a newspaper proving Kim Jong Nam had died," he said. "When she saw it, she started to cry."
Why plot to kill Kim Jong Nam?
Business Insider/Samantha Lee
Kim Jong Un is believed to have felt uneasy about Kim Jong Nam, who was previously spoken of as a successor to their father.
This has prompted claims that Kim Jong Un engineered the murder plot.
(Kim Jong Nam fell out of favor with his father in the early 2000s, reportedly after he and his family were caught trying to enter Japan on false Dominican Republican passports so they could go to Disneyland.)
Japan’s Asahi Shimbun reported last year that days, before Kim was killed, he met with a US intelligence official in Malaysia.
The news outlet said records from Kim’s computer showed a record of a thumb drive being inserted.
The alleged meeting reinforces a theory that the US, and possibly even China, were trying to groom and leverage Kim Jong Nam to possibly remove Kim Jong Un from power, Business Insider’s Alex Lockie reported.
Why was Kim Jong Nam was carrying an antidote?
Kim was carrying a dozen vials of atropine, an antidote for poisons like VX, in his bag on the day he was assassinated, the murder trial heard.
Six months before he was killed, he also reportedly told a friend that his life was in danger.
Nial Wheate, a pharmaceutics lecturer at the University of Sydney, told CNN last year: "If you know someone is coming after you with a nerve agent, atropine is a key drug you would want to carry."
Why he did not use the antidote upon being smeared with VX is not clear.
Upon hearing her sentence on Monday, Huong cried in the courtroom and later told reporters according to the BBC: "Only God knows that we did not commit the murder. I want my family to pray for me."
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