KUALA LUMPUR – A Malaysian court sentenced on Monday a Vietnamese woman accused in the murder of the half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, after she pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of causing bodily harm by dangerous means.
Doan Thi Huong, 30, one of the two women who in February 2017 allegedly smeared VX nerve agent on the face of Kim Jong-nam, Kim Jong-un’s elder brother, got 40 months in prison after the prosecution reduced the charges against her.
The prosecution said she faced an imprisonment of up to 10 years for “voluntarily causing hurt on the man by dangerous means” as against the murder charge which is punishable with death.
Smiling but still handcuffed, Doan left the court under police escort.
She said she was “happy” with the outcome and appreciated the media coverage of the case.
Doan’s lawyer told journalists outside the court that her jail term ends in June 2020 but she could be released in May this year if the prison department accepted a reduction of one third of the punishment for her good behavior.
Doan’s trial on Monday was to begin with her testimony before the judge after several delays earlier.
But the prosecution decided to reduce the “premeditated murder” charge to a lesser charge.
Doan pleaded guilty in the court after a brief break during which she and her lawyers considered the offer, said the prosecution.
Doan and Siti Aisyah, 26, the co-defendant from Indonesia, were accused of spraying poisonous nerve agent on Kim Jong-nam on Feb. 13, 2017 near the departure terminal of the Kuala Lumpur airport.
Aisyah was freed on March 11 after charges against her were dropped following intervention by the Indonesian government. She was sent to her country the same day.
Airport security camera footage allegedly showed the two women approaching Kim Jong-nam in the departure lounge and smearing his face with VX-a powerful nerve agent considered a weapon of mass destruction by the United Nations.
The women were detained two days after the incident. Pleading not guilty, they claimed that they believed it was a prank for a TV show and did not know the substance was a deadly poison.
Kim Jong-nam died on the way to a hospital less than half an hour after the incident.
As compared to Siti, Doan’s defense was on shakier grounds as her face was clearly visible in the CCTV footage. She was also spotted washing her hands in an airport washroom later in another footage, which was used by the prosecution to prove that she knew about the toxicity of the substance used.
Doan’s sentencing practically leaves the case closed and with many incognitos about a murder reminiscent of the Cold War era.
Neither of the accused testified during judicial process relating to the murder, which is alleged to have been carried out by the intelligence unit of the North Korean regime.
The investigations into the murder damaged the cordial diplomatic relations between Malaysia and North Korea.
Pyongyang alleged that the probe was biased as both countries broke several bilateral agreements, expelled ambassadors and ordered temporary detention of citizens, which was resolved a few days later.
According to Malaysian police probe, the killing was planned by four North Koreans –Hong Song Hac, Ri Ji Hyon, O Jong Gil and Ri Jae Nam – who hired the two women using different names and nationalities.
The whereabouts of the plotters are unknown after they flew out of Kuala Lumpur following the incident although they were spotted near the site of the murder before it took place.
Kim Jong-nam, born in 1971, was the son of late North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il and actor Song Hye-rim.
He was considered the favorite to succeed his father until he fell out of favor in 2001 after he was detained with a false passport in Japan.
He had spent the last few years before his murder in self-imposed exile in China, drawing international attention in 2012 for his criticism of the regime in Pyongyang and its succession system.
Kim Jong-nam was traveling with a passport under the pseudonym Kim Chol and was scheduled to fly to Macau, where he was living in exile, when he was assaulted at the airport.
North Korea has denied any involvement in the plot and argued that the death of the North Korean citizen Kim Chol was due to heart attack.
Pyongyang alleged that Malaysian authorities had conspired with Washington and Seoul in the case.