KUALA LUMPUR – The murder trial of the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un concluded in Kuala Lumpur on Monday with more questions than answers about a Cold War-style crime.
Kim Jong-un’s exiled brother Kim Jong-nam dropped dead at a Malaysian airport two years ago as he took ill after being sprayed with chemical. CCTV footage at the airport showed two women smearing his face with what was believed to be a lethal nerve agent.
The women were identified as Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong and Indonesian Siti Aisyah. They were arrested two days after the alleged murder on Feb. 23, 2017.
Aisyah, 26, was released on March 11 after charges against her were dropped following intervention by the Indonesian government.
Doan, 30, pleaded guilty on Monday to lesser charge of causing bodily harm by dangerous means and was sentenced to 40 months in prison.
Neither of the two women, who faced the death penalty for the alleged murder, testified before the court that shrouded Kim Jong-nam’s sudden death in a mystery with unknowns related to the case outweighing the certainties.
The following are the key elements of the case that shocked the world.
Kim Jong-nam, the eldest son of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, who was considered the favorite to succeed his father, died on Feb. 13, 2017 aged 45 years after being poisoned at the Kuala Lumpur airport before he was to board a flight to Macau where he lived in exile.
Like Kim Jong-un, he was educated in Switzerland, but owing to his liberal ideas and his apparent closeness with China, he was viewed with distrust by Pyongyang.
He fell out of favor in 2001 after he was detained with a false passport in Japan. He openly criticized his father’s succession plan in favor of his younger brother but kept a very low profile since the arrival in power of Kim Jong-un in 2011.
Doan and Aisyah, both from poor families, were living in Kuala Lumpur for a more prosperous future although the two ended up working in seedy nightclubs.
The two women pleaded not guilty after their arrest and told the police that they were employed by four men to take part in a prank television show.
Airport security camera footage allegedly showed the two women approaching Kim Jong-nam in the departure lounge and smearing his face with a colorless and odorless liquid. They said they believed it was harmless.
Experts determined that the substance used was VX – a powerful nerve agent considered a weapon of mass destruction by the United Nations.
The victim died minutes later in an ambulance on his way to a hospital.
THE NORTH KOREANS ON THE RUN
According to the 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.
Right from the start, South Korea and the United States attributed the murder to intelligence services of the North Korean regime.
Pyongyang, however, maintains that the person who died was a North Korea citizen, Kim Chol (the name that appeared in the passport used by Kim Jong-nam) and that his death was due to heart attack.
North Korea called the Malaysian probe biased and as a result the two countries broke-off bilateral ties and expelled each other’s ambassadors.
Several agreements between the two countries was terminated and citizens detained which was resolved in a matter of days later.
In Oct. 2017, Malaysian prosecutors began questioning dozens of witnesses, police officials and health personnel at the High Court in Shah Alam to prove that the accused intended to kill the North Korean.
After several delays, Aisyah was released on March 11 this year following mediation by the Indonesian government.
On Monday, the prosecution proposed to reduce the charge against Doan from “premeditated murder” – punishable with death – to “voluntarily causing hurt on the man by dangerous means,” for which she faced 10 years in jail.
The amendment to the charge led to an agreement between the prosecution and the defense and the conclusion of the criminal process.