Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 June 2019

Malaysia won't drop case against Vietnamese in killing of half brother of North Korea leader

Prosecutor gives no explanation for refusal to drop murder charge against just one of two women

Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong who was detained in connection with the death of Kim Jong-Nam, cries as she is escorted by Malaysian police officers leaving the Shah Alam High Court, Shah Alam, Malaysia. EPA
Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong who was detained in connection with the death of Kim Jong-Nam, cries as she is escorted by Malaysian police officers leaving the Shah Alam High Court, Shah Alam, Malaysia. EPA

Malaysia's attorney-general ordered the murder case to proceed against a Vietnamese woman accused in the killing of the estranged half brother of North Korea's leader, prosecutors said in court on Thursday.

Prosecutor Iskandar Ahmad gave no explanation for the refusal to drop the murder charge against Doan Thi Huong, who is the only suspect in custody after the stunning decision on Monday to drop the case against Indonesian Siti Aisyah.

The decision to move forward with Ms Huong's case was slammed by both her lawyer and Vietnam's ambassador, who had hoped she would be given the same leniency as Ms Aisyah.

Ambassador Le Quy Quynh said he was "very disappointed" with the decision. He said Vietnam's justice minister had written to the Malaysian attorney-general seeking Ms Huong's release and that Vietnam would keep lobbying Malaysia to free her.

"We will request Malaysia to have fair judgment and release her as soon as possible," he said.

Ms Huong's lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik was more blunt, telling the court the decision was "perverse." He said prosecutors were being unfair to Ms Huong as her case was similar to Ms Aisyah.

"Very obviously, there is discrimination. The AG favoured one party to the other," Mr Teh said.

Ms Huong and Ms Aisyah were accused of smearing the toxic VX nerve agent on Kim Jong Nam's face in an airport terminal in Kuala Lumpur on February 13, 2017. They have said they thought they were taking part in a harmless prank for a TV show.

They were the only people in custody after four North Korean suspects fled the country the same morning Kim was killed. Both women were charged separately but the charge against them is the same: That they had colluded with the four North Korean suspects to murder Kim.

A High Court judge last August had found there was enough evidence to infer that Ms Aisyah, Ms Huong and the four North Koreans engaged in a "well-planned conspiracy" to kill Kim.

Lawyers for the women argued that they were pawns in a political assassination with clear links to the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, and that the prosecution failed to show the women had any intention to kill. Intent to kill is crucial to a murder charge under Malaysian law.

Ms Huong's lawyer sought a deferment of the trial on Thursday, saying she was unwell and needed medical treatment. He said Ms Huong only slept an hour a night since Ms Aisyah's release and was not in a position to testify.

When asked by the judge if she was unwell, she stood in the dock and said she suffered from tension and stress.

"I have no idea what is going on," a tired and pale-looking Ms Huong, who was wrapped in a red headscarf and a coat, said through an interpreter.

The judge agreed to postpone the trial until April 1 but warned there should be no more delay. The defence phase of the trial was to have begun on Monday.

Ms Huong was sobbing as she spoke to Vietnamese Embassy officials after Thursday's court hearing ended.

In Ms Huong's village in Vietnam, her family was crestfallen.

"I had hoped for good news today, but unfortunately there is none. I'm very sad and disappointed. I had hoped my daughter would be freed like the Indonesian woman," said her 66-year-old father Doan Van Thanh.

He said he believes his daughter is innocent and told her to "stay calm and hope for the best outcome."

Ms Huong's stepmother, Nguyen Thi Vy, was in tears as she slammed the court's decision.

"It's so unfair. They were together, did the same thing," she said.

Ms Huong could face a death sentence if she is convicted.

Naran Singh, another lawyer for the accused, said it was very rare for the attorney-general to drop a murder case after the judge had called for their defence. He urged the attorney-general to be transparent and explain why he dropped the case against Ms Aisyah but not Ms Huong.

Updated: March 14, 2019 09:55 AM

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