Two women accused of killing Kim Jong Un’s estranged half brother arrived in Malaysia to begin their trial on Monday, eight months after he was poisoned in a crowded airport terminal in broad daylight.
The women, Siti Aisyah of Indonesia and Doan Thi Huong of Vietnam, are suspected of smearing Kim Jong Nam’s face with a banned nerve agent on February 13 at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, from which he died in around 20 minutes, The Guardian reports. They claim they thought they were playing a prank for a TV show, and have pleaded not guilty. From The Guardian:
The women are the only suspects in custody in a killing that South Korea’s spy agency said was part of a five-year plot by the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, to kill a brother he reportedly never met. Police say several North Koreans suspected of involvement left the country on the day of the attack and others were allowed to leave later in a diplomatic deal with Pyongyang.
Video footage shows Jong Nam being approached in the airport’s concourse by two women, who appear to quickly rub something across his face. He’s the seen seeking help from airport staff, explaining that he “felt like someone grabbed or held his face from behind.” Police General Tito Karnavian told reporters at the time that the women were given money to participate in the “prank,” in which they were instructed to convince men to close their eyes, then spray them with water or some other harmless liquid.
South Korea’s spy agency has said the incident was the product of a five-year plot by Kim Jong Un to eliminate his brother, whom he’d never met. Jong Nam apparently fell out of favor with North Korea’s ruling family in 2001 when he was caught trying to enter Japan on a fake visa because he wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland. While Jong Nam had spoken critically of his family’s governing style, he was not thought to be a threat to the regime, and had lived abroad for many years.
Pyongyang has denied playing a role in the killing, and has not acknowledged the victim was Kim Jong Nam.
If convicted, the women face the death penalty.