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KUCHING: Two women pleaded not guilty Monday to murdering Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korea’s leader at the start of their trial in Shah Alam High Court this morning, claiming they were duped into believing they were taking part in a prank for a TV show.
However, prosecutors alleged they carried out simulations to practise the assassination before carrying it out.
Local and international media reported Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25, and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, 29, arrived at the hearing handcuffed and in bulletproof vests under heavy security.
They were arrested just days after the killing of Kim on Feb 13 as he waited to board a plane to Macau.
They are accused of rubbing a toxic nerve agent on his face which shut down his nervous system, killing him about 20 minutes later. The women’s actions were captured on airport surveillance.
The women will face death by hanging if convicted.
The first witness on the stand was a policeman who testified Kim complained of having blurred vision after he was attacked before collapsing in a clinic at the airport as medics fought to save his life.
The murder sparked an angry row between North Korea, which was accused of masterminding the killing of Kim Jong Un’s estranged relative, and Malaysia, historically one of Pyongyang’s few allies.
AFP reports that four other suspects who are still at large are listed in the charge sheet of killing Kim alongside the women, but authorities have not released their names. Four North Korean suspects fled Malaysia on the day of the murder.
Defence lawyers argued the charge was ambiguous due to the failure to identify the four other suspects, and urged the court to reveal their identities. Judge Azmi Ariffin refused the request.
The women’s lawyers believe the four unnamed individuals are the main suspects in the murder.
They argue that their clients, who were living precarious existences among Malaysia’s army of migrant workers, are simply the fall guys.
South Korea accuses the North of ordering the murder of Kim, who had voiced criticism of the regime after falling from grace and going to live in exile overseas. Pyongyang denies the allegations.
As well as the North Koreans who fled immediately after the assassination, several others allegedly linked to the murder plot were allowed to leave the country later to ease a diplomatic crisis.
Prosecutors — who insist the women will get a fair trial — will lay out their case over two months and call 30 to 40 witnesses. The defence is then likely to be called.
Before the murder Malaysia had been one of Pyongyang’s few allies amid a global outcry over the country’s atomic weapons programme.
After the assassination sent diplomatic relations plummeting between Pyongyang and Kuala Lumpur, tensions only eased when Malaysia agreed to return Kim’s body in March.