The two women suspected of murdering Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korea’s leader, have pleaded not guilty at their trial in Malaysia.
The brazen nature of Kim Jong-nam’s killing, using the highly toxic VX nerve agent as he waited for a flight at Kuala Lumpur airport in February, shocked the world.
Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, 29, and Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25, are accused of rubbing the chemical on Kim Jong-nam’s face.
Doan Thi Huong and Siti Aisyah say it was a TV prank and they were tricked by North Korean agents.
North Korea has denied any involvement in the killing, but in court prosecutors said that four men – believed to be four North Koreans who fled Malaysia on the day of murder – were also charged in the case.
The incident led to a bitter diplomatic row and strained the once cordial ties between North Korea and Malaysia, which expelled each other’s ambassadors.
The trial has been eight months in the making and the two women are the only suspects actually charged so far with the murder of Kim Jong-nam.
If found guilty, the women face the death penalty. Their defense lawyers are likely to argue that the real culprits are North Korean agents, who left Malaysia.
However, in his opening remarks, the prosecutor said he aims to prove that the women, along with four people still at large, had the “common intention” to kill Kim Jong-nam.
The prosecutor said the women had carried out practice runs in Kuala Lumpur shopping malls before the attack, under the “supervision” of the four people, who were not named in court.
Dozens of witnesses, including airport staff who came into contact with Kim Jong-nam, are expected to take the stand in the trial which will run for weeks.
The murder is notable for its sheer audacity, taking place as it did mid-morning in full view of security cameras at Kuala Lumpur’s airport.
On February 13, the two women were seen threading through crowds of people and accosting Kim Jong-nam, before rubbing their hands on his face.
Then there was the speed with which Kim Jong-nam died. Immediately after the attack he sought help from airport staff, who led him to a clinic, but he collapsed and died just minutes later.
After a post-mortem examination, Malaysian authorities announced Kim Jong-nam had been killed by VX, a toxin so lethal that it is classified as a weapon of mass destruction by the United Nations.
The two women, who were arrested days after the killing, have insisted that they were tricked by North Koreans into taking part in what they thought was a TV prank. Four North Korean men who fled Malaysia shortly after the incident are believed to suspects. In March, Interpol issued “red notices” for the North Koreans arrest.
Malaysia has named and questioned other North Koreans in relation to the case.
However, authorities also allowed three of them to leave the country in late March, in return for North Korea releasing nine Malaysian diplomats and their families.
Kim Jong-nam, who was in his mid-40s, was the estranged older half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
At the time of his death, Kim Jong-nam was believed to have been living in self-imposed exile in Macau and was thought to have had some links to China.