Reuters: An Indonesian woman accused in the 2017 killing of the North Korean leader’s half-brother was released from custody today after the court dropped the murder charge against her.
After the court decision to release her, 26-year-old Siti Aisyah hugged her co-accused Doan Thi Huong, a 30-year-old Vietnamese woman, and cried.
The two women had been accused of poisoning Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, with liquid VX, a banned chemical weapon, at Kuala Lumpur airport in February 2017.
From the outset of the case, there were suspicions that Jong Nam was the victim of a plot arranged by North Korean agents who left Malaysia in the hours after the killing, and the two women had been mere pawns in a political assassination.
Siti Aisyah had been working as a masseuse in Kuala Lumpur, while Doan described herself as an entertainer.
“We still believe that she was merely a scapegoat,” Siti Aisyah’s lawyer, Gooi Soon Seng, told reporters.
“I still believe that North Korea had something to do with it.”
The trial of Siti Aisyah, 26, was suspended in December as her lawyers argued with prosecutors over access to statements made by seven witnesses.
Prosecutors told the court today that they had been instructed to withdraw the charge against Siti Aisyah. No reason was given for the application.
Once the court released Siti Aisyah, she was immediately rushed to an elevator and was seen being escorted to an Indonesian embassy car waiting outside the courthouse.
While the court discharged Siti Aisyah from the case, it rejected her lawyer’s request for her to be fully acquitted, as it said that the trial had already established a prima facie case and she could be recalled if fresh evidence emerges.
The prosecution had moved to throw the case out in August last year, but the judge ruled that the women should testify. He said he accepted that it could have been a “political assassination” but said he could not rule out that there had been a “well-planned conspiracy” between the two women and the North Korean operatives.
Kim had originally been the favored child to take over from his father, Kim Jong-il, but became estranged from the family after an incident in 2001, when he was arrested trying to get into Japan on a fake Dominican passport with the Mandarin alias “fat bear”. He later admitted he had been trying to visit Disneyland in Tokyo.
The incident was said to have caused embarrassment to Kim Jong-il, who cut ties with his son and refused to let him back to Pyongyang. Kim Jong-Nam instead settled in the Chinese gambling enclave of Macau. He expressed little desire to return to North Korea and angered his younger brother, who took leadership in 2011, by saying that the world would view Kim Jong-un’s leadership as a “joke”.
However, Kim was reported to have become increasingly fearful and paranoid in the past few years, fearing retribution from his brother. The court case revealed he had been carrying 12 doses of atropine, an antidote to VX nerve agent, in his bag at the time of his death.
His murder sparked a diplomatic stand-off between North Korea and Malaysia, with the nations briefly banning its other citizens from leaving.
The women had previously told the court they did not know they were participating in a deadly attack and they are alleged North Korean co-conspirators had led them to believe they were carrying out a prank for a reality TV show.
Gooi said there was no “direct evidence” of the Indonesian woman’s involvement in the killing.
“We truly believe she’s a scapegoat and she is innocent as we laid out [before],” he said. “I still believe that North Korea had something to do with it.”
The prosecutor said the discharge – not amounting to an acquittal – means Sita can be recharged but there are no such plans for now.
Indonesia Ambassador Rusdi Kirana expressed gratitude for the decision.
“We feel the court is fair. She’s our daughter. Every Indonesian is our children,” Rusdi said.
Vietnamese national Doan Thi Huong, 30, was also charged with Kim’s murder and remained in custody. Yet, Huong’s fate remains unclear as her hearing was adjourned until Thursday.
Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, Huong’s lawyer, said he is applying for a full acquittal and his client was “traumatized” by the decision to free Siti but not her.
“We want Doan to be treated equally. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander,” Hisyam said. “They withdrew the charge against one but not the other. What is the basis? We need to know.”
Unlike Huong, Siti had no traces of VX in her fingernails and suffered no symptoms of VX poisoning.
Kim Jong Nam, the eldest son of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, had spoken out publicly against his family’s dynastic control of the isolated, nuclear-armed nation.
He had been living under China’s protection in the territory of Macau.
The Malaysian government has avoided accusing North Korea of involvement and sought to de-politicize the case as much as possible.
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