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Kim assassination suspects should not be ambushed: lawyer

By M JEGATHESAN

Kuala Lumpur (AFP) -- Two women accused of assassinating the half-brother of North Korea's leader risk being subjected to a "trial by ambush", a defence lawyer said Thursday, accusing the police of failing to share key evidence.

Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25, and Doan Thi Huong, 28, from Vietnam, were taken in bulletproof vests to a heavily guarded magistrate's court for a hearing ahead of a murder trial that could see them hanged.

Police accuse the pair of wiping the banned nerve agent VX on Kim Jong-Nam's face at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on February 13 as he was about to board a flight to Macau, where he was living in exile.

Rival South Korea accuses the North of masterminding the killing of Kim, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. Pyongyang denies the accusation, insisting he died of a heart attack.

Siti's lawyer told the court they had not been provided with a report from the police and prosecution on statements taken from three North Koreans who were allowed to leave Malaysia under a deal that defused a diplomatic crisis between the two nations.

"The duty of the investigation officer is not to merely bolster up the case for the prosecution so as to secure a conviction but to establish the unvarnished truth of the case so that the justice may prevail," Gooi Soon Seng said.

Gooi also sought the court's intervention in making any CCTV footage in relation to the murder available to the defence to ensure both sides have equal access to evidence.

"There shall be no trial by ambush," he said.

Doan's lawyer asked the court to alter the murder charge since prosecutors have not identified four people mentioned in charge documents as accomplices to the women, but the judge did not entertain the request.

'She was cheated'

About 100 police officers, include commandos in balaclavas and carrying assault rifles, guarded the court compound during the women’s appearance.

Dressed in a red top and blue jeans, Siti kept her head down throughout the hearing. Doang, also casually dressed, quietly observed the court proceedings.

The case is due to be transferred to an upper court where the women will be tried for murder. If convicted, they could face the death penalty, which is carried out by hanging in Malaysia.

The killing sparked a diplomatic row between Malaysia and North Korea which saw both countries banning each other's citizens from leaving and withdrawing their ambassadors.

The travel ban was lifted in late March after a deal was struck involving the return of Kim's body to North Korea.

Police are still looking for four North Korean men who are suspected to have taken part in the murder plot, but are believed to have returned to Pyongyang.

Three other North Koreans earlier described as "persons of interest", including a diplomat based in Malaysia, were allowed to return home under the deal.

Indonesian officials have maintained that Siti was duped into believing she was taking part in pranks for a TV show, while Doan's family said she was invited to Malaysia to be an actress.

Tran Huy Hoang, a young Vietnamese man who attended the hearing and described himself as a cousin of Doan, told AFP: "She loves to travel and party but she never do anything violent.

"All of us believe she was cheated."

 

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