Kim Jong-nam murder: Vietnamese woman accused of killing North Korea leader’s half-brother avoids death penalty

Kim Jong-un’s estranged half-brother died after VX poison was smeared on his face while he waited to board flight in Kuala Lumpur in 2017

Chiara Giordano
Monday 01 April 2019 20:12
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A Vietnamese woman accused of murdering the North Korean leader’s half-brother has avoided the death penalty after pleading guilty to a lesser charge.

Doan Thi Huong, 30, was charged with killing Kim Jong-nam, the estranged sibling of Kim Jong-un, by smearing his face with VX poison, a lethal chemical weapon, at Kuala Lumpur’s main airport in February 2017.

But prosecutors in Shah Alam in Malaysia on Monday offered Huong an alternative charge of causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means after receiving representations from the Vietnamese embassy and the woman’s lawyers.

She pleaded guilty to the lesser charge and was sentenced to three years and four months in jail, beginning from the day she was arrested on 15 February 2017.

However Huong is expected to be freed by the first week of May, after a one-third reduction in her sentence for good behaviour.

She would have faced the death penalty if convicted of murder.

While handing out a jail term far short of the maximum 10 years the new charge carried, the judge told Huong she was “very, very lucky” and wished her “all the best”.

Vietnamese officials in the courtroom cheered when the decision was announced.

Huong is the only suspect in custody after the Malaysian attorney general’s decision to drop the murder case against Indonesian Siti Aisyah on 11 March following high-level lobbying from Jakarta.

Kim Jong Nam, exiled half brother of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un.

Huong sought also to be acquitted after Ms Aisyah was freed, but prosecutors rejected her request.

The original charge had alleged the two women colluded with four North Koreans to murder Mr Kim with VX nerve agent they smeared on his face as he was passing through the airport on 13 February, 2017.

The women had said they thought they were taking part in a harmless prank for a TV show.

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The four North Koreans fled Malaysia on the same day Mr Kim was killed.

The high court judge last August found there was enough evidence to infer that Huong, Ms Aisyah and the four North Koreans were part of a “well-planned conspiracy” to kill Mr Kim and had called on the two women to present their defence.

Lawyers for the women have said that they were pawns in a political assassination with clear links to the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur, and that the prosecution failed to show the women had any intention to kill.

Intent to kill is crucial to a murder charge under Malaysian law.

Huong’s lawyer told the court Monday that her guilty plea to the lesser charge showed she “has taken responsibility” for her actions.

In asking for a lenient sentence, he also told the court that her move saved judicial time.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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