FILE - This combination of the Oct. 2, 2017 file photos shows Indonesian Siti Aisyah, left, and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, right, escorted by police as they leave a court hearing in Shah Alam, Malaysia, outside Kuala Lumpur. Lost in the glare of North Korea’s missile launches, rhetorical battles with Washington and its charm offensive at the Winter Olympics, two young Southeast Asian women stand accused of a crime that could send them to the gallows, the stunning assassination of Kim Jong Un’s brother. It’s a crime they almost certainly had a part in, possibly without knowing it. But just as certainly, the slaying a year ago Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018 must have required a bigger cast of characters. And those suspects are long gone. (AP Photo/Daniel Chan, File)
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One year after Kim's killing at Malaysian airport, suspected masterminds evade trial

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By EILEEN NG and ERIC TALMADGE

Lost in the glare of North Korea's missile launches, rhetorical battles with Washington and charm offensive at the Winter Olympics, two women stand accused of a crime that could send them to the gallows - the stunning assassination of Kim Jong Un's estranged half brother.

It's a crime the young Southeast Asian women almost certainly had a part in - possibly without even knowing it.

But just as certainly, the slaying of Kim Jong Nam one year ago Tuesday must have required a bigger cast of characters. People who could do the meticulous planning, procure the deadly and exotic poison and carefully wait for the exact moment to act so no one would die other than the unwitting target in a crowded airport terminal in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Masterminds, in other words. Professional killers.

And those suspects are all long gone.

Instead, the sole defendants in one of the highest-profile political hits in decades are Siti Aisyah, 25, of Indonesia and Doan Thi Huong, 29, of Vietnam. Both are accused of smearing the VX nerve agent on Kim Jong Nam's face last Feb. 13. The poison, developed for military use, is so potent that Kim was dead within two hours.

From the start of their trial last October, the women, who before getting caught up in the assassination plot left rural poverty to work in Southeast Asia's nightlife scene, have claimed they were duped into playing what they thought was a harmless prank for a hidden-camera show. They face a mandatory death sentence by hanging if convicted.

Lawyers for the women say their defense has been handicapped by a sloppy investigation and by the very conspicuous absence of the suspected North Korean masterminds.

"As long as the North Korean suspects are away, the actual truth will never be proven. I sincerely believe that the girls should be acquitted because we have clearly shown that they are being used as scapegoats," said Aisyah's lawyer Gooi Soon Seng.

Both the prosecution and defense agree the women could not have been acting entirely on their own, and that the crime was carried out as part of a plot by a group of North Korean agents who recruited, trained and supplied them with the VX nerve agent.

The prosecution even has a pretty good idea who the suspected masterminds are.

Four North Korean suspects were seen on airport security cameras discarding their belongings and changing their clothing after the attack. The North Korean Embassy has also been implicated with an embassy official helping get flights out for the four men, and using the name of one of its citizens to buy a car that was used to take the suspects to the airport.

But Malaysian police and prosecutors have shied away from attaching any political motive to the killing.

Malaysian officials have never officially accused Pyongyang of involvement in Kim's death. Instead, they have focused narrowly on simply proving the women's guilt. Prosecutors contend the two knew they were handling poison, citing security camera footage showing them rushing to the washroom and holding their hands away from their bodies after the attack.

"The Malaysian government wants it all to go away by trying to rush the trial and end it," said James Chin, director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania in Australia. "Once everything is under the bridge, which will take years, Malaysia and North Korea will likely resume normal relations. The Kim Jong Nam case will be just another footnote in history."

Kim, 46, was the eldest son of former North Korea leader Kim Jong Il and was once seen as the potential heir in the family that has ruled North Korea since its founding.

He had fallen out of favor and had been living abroad as the actual heir Kim Jong Un solidified his powerbase. But while Kim Jong Nam was not an obvious political threat, he may have been seen as a potential rival to his brother.

A police witness told the court last month that Kim met with an unidentified Korean-American man at a Malaysian resort island four days before he was killed. The policeman was asked by defense lawyers about a Japanese newspaper report that the man was a U.S. intelligence agent based in Bangkok and that the meeting might have been one of the reasons why Pyongyang decided to silence Kim.

To bolster the theory, the court heard about forensics analysis of Kim's laptop that showed some data had been accessed from a USB drive inserted into the laptop on the day of the meeting. Kim was also carrying $138,000 in cash when he was killed.

Close ties between Malaysia and North Korea have badly frayed since the killing.

While it isn't one of North Korea's key diplomatic partners, Malaysia had been one of the few places in the world where North Koreans could previously travel without a visa, providing a quiet destination for North Koreans looking for jobs, schools and business deals.

Malaysian officials have hinted since the assassination about ending diplomatic ties with Pyongyang and chided the regime over its nuclear ambitions.

For now, North Korea still maintains its embassy in an upscale suburb in Kuala Lumpur. But it has refused to cooperate with Malaysian authorities investigating the case and accused Malaysia of conniving with its enemies. Both countries withdrew their ambassadors and ended visa-free travel for each other's citizens. North Korea blocked nine Malaysians from leaving the country and Malaysia responded in kind, barring North Koreans from exiting its soil.

As part of a deal to end the diplomatic row, Malaysia returned Kim's body and three suspects hiding in the North Korean Embassy to Pyongyang in exchange for the nine Malaysians just weeks after the killing.

The trial resumes on Feb. 22, with prosecutors expected to rest their case by April or early May.

If the judge finds there is no case against the women, they will be freed. If he rules otherwise, the defense will be called and the trial will continue for several more months. An appeal to higher courts could add several more years.

© Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

©2018 GPlusMedia Inc.


12 Comments
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To u_s__reamer:

Once again the Romans get it wrong. The Romans hated and feared anything which was not obedient to them and whose behavior, even wolves, was more noble than their own. They were not condemning but extolling such behavior.

The real quote here should be:

Homo homini nec monstrum

We might recall that wolves do not prey upon each other or mass murder their own. We are the only truly pathological genepool on this planet. And we prove it every day. Our time is coming in the next two generations. The human blight will grow faster in the next two generations than it has ever before as we double from ~7.5 billion now to 15 billion mouths in the next two generations. We will never reach 15 billion mouths. Your own imagination might fill in the rest albeit the horror will be unimaginable when the collapse and dieback begin.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

This is what happens when you even mention the possibility of a "regime change". Kim Jong Un's Uncle Jang Song-Thaek brought up his other nephew Kim Jong Nam as a possible successor to the NK Kim Regime when he met Hu Jing Tao in China. Word got back to Kim Jong Un who promptly had his uncle and half-brother eliminated. It's really pathetic on the part of the Malaysian government to simply try these two hired bimbos, regardless of whether they knew or didn't know about the VX when the North Korean gameplay is so freaking obvious.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

If the DPRK had money, there would be an international love-in.

Any money NK does have is funneled into the military and missile programs. It would be no different if they had more of it. Stop making excuses for a despicable totalitarian regime led by a lunatic.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Which news is maintaining this?

She's a diplomat and is taking steps to bring about cordial relations. Not an easy task. A lot of people want to see her fail. A lot of people seem intent on pushing for conflict.

The regime she represents is hard to stomach. But think about it - the US, UK and other countries do business and shake hands with Chinese reps all the time. That country also has despicable human rights abuses. It also spies, conducts cyber warfare and crosses into disputed waters.

If the DPRK had money, there would be an international love-in.

But it doesn't and therefore, is an easy target for all sorts of speculation.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Were the two working with the leader's sister in the nefarious plot. That lady the news maintains is the most peaceful character the world has ever known.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The suspects say they are not guilty. The women claim they were duped into believing it really was a prank, staged for a reality television show. 

Really, ladies? You weren't the least bit suspicious when you were told to run to separate bathrooms IMMEDIATELY after to wash off the liquid that was on your hands? Not buying it.

If the Malaysians had any stones they'd indict the Dear Fatguy as a conspirator in this crime. That would go over well in Pyongyang I bet...

4 ( +4 / -0 )

There will be no reintegration with the world until they disarm or are destroyed

And who is going to "destroy" the DPRK?

Let me guess; the USA? The same country responsible for the deaths of millions of Vietnamese? The only country who's used nuclear weapons on another country?

Seems like some Americans haven't reintegrated and still want to kill Asian people.

I hope these suspects are freed, if they genuinely were under the impression it was a prank.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

What's interesting is that these women immediately rushed to the nearest restroom near the murder scene to wash their hands. Did they know that there was a deadly nerve agent on their hands? And they seemed to carry out this act without getting any of it on themselves, which is rather remarkable in and of itself considering it was a highly toxic nerve agent. It looks kind of like they knew what they were dealing with.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

It was a hit and these are the patsies.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Let me guess, this North Korean assassination on foreign soil was all an American propaganda plot? This is likely what the North Korean apologists and swooners would have you believe

These 2 will be executed, that's not in doubt. Whether the world can ever trust North Korea ever again, is another question. There will be no reintegration with the world until they disarm or are destroyed

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

Only 2 questions should determine their fate:-

Explain how you managed to avoid your own quick death "unwillingly" having VX on your hands? (if she really didn't know what was on her hands, she would surely have died from improper cleaning)

Provide evidence that you took part in training runs of the so-called prank? (did any independent witnesses see these training runs)

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The agents of the state who hold the reins of power may murder with impunity in their "Game of Thrones". "Justice" is dispensed only to the bit-players recruited from the masses. Homo homini lupus est, as the ruthless Romans put it.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

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