By Hadi Azmi
The lawyer for a Vietnamese woman accused of killing the North Korean leader’s estranged half-brother last year accused Malaysian authorities of prejudice toward his client, while questioning the prosecution’s star witness on Wednesday.
Hisyam Teh Pok Teik, who represents suspect Doan Thi Huong, said he received a letter from the Malaysian attorney general dated Dec. 4, 2017, declining his request to assist the defense in bringing a witness from Vietnam to appear at the Shah Alam High Court.
Doan is standing trial with Siti Aisyah of Indonesia on charges that they murdered Kim Jong Nam in a chemical attack at a Kuala Lumpur area airport on Feb. 17, 2017. Both could face the death penalty if convicted.
Siti’s attorney, Gooi Soon Seng, had finished his questioning of lead police investigator Wan Azirul Nizam Che Wan Aziz earlier in the day. Before wrapping up, Gooi took his own shot at the government’s case against his client by alleging that CCTV footage presented during the prosecution phase was edited to hurt the defendants.
Hisyam had asked the attorney general’s office in November for assistance in convincing Vietnamese citizen Nguyen Vich Thuy to travel to Malaysia to testify about her role in introducing Doan to a North Korean man who allegedly duped her into participating in the killing.
“It’s unfortunate that the AG declined to exercise his power to do this and in doing that deprived us of having the opportunity for police to go to Vietnam and investigate,” said Salim Bashir, another attorney representing Doan.
Hisyam told the court that Nguyen’s testimony was crucial because she introduced Doan to Ri Ji Hyon (alias Mr. Y), one of four North Korean men who fled Kuala Lumpur hours after the murder, according to testimony from Wan Azirul.
Hisyam also criticized Wan Azirul for failing to take the necessary steps to get Nguyen’s statements.
“In doing an investigation you are supposed to look for the truth, but your investigation is only focused on the CCTV footage,” Hisyam said. “There truth is there (in Vietnam) but no one in Malaysia is interested.”
Nguyen, according to Hisyam, turned down efforts by Vietnamese police and defense lawyers to travel to Malaysia to testify for Doan, citing her responsibility in running her bar with her husband and taking care of her young child.
The defense attorney presented two declarations made by Nguyen at the Malaysian embassy in Hanoi outlining her involvement with the incident.
In one affidavit, Nguyen who worked with Doan at a bar in Hanoi until 2016, said she suggested her co-worker to Ri Ji Hyon when he came to her bar two months before the murder. The man who identified himself as Lee spoke fluent Vietnamese and said he was a child of Vietnamese and Korean parents.
He said he was working for a South Korean production company looking for candidates to participate in prank videos for YouTube.
“Nguyen herself was offered the role and declined because she had to take care of her small child,” Hisyam said, adding that Nguyen then reached out to Doan.
The affidavit corroborates Doan’s statement to the Malaysian police that she was an actress who was in Malaysia to do prank videos, the defense argued.
Nguyen also said Ri Ji Hyon told Doan that the pranks would be done at airports and involve pouring water on people’s heads. The job required flying to cities in the region, including Kuala Lumpur.
Nguyen’s affidavit and Doan’s statement to police are consistent with Siti’s statement that she believed she was participating in a prank show.
Before finishing his questioning of Wan Azirul, Gooi slammed Malaysian investigators for not allowing him to meet with Siti during her 14-day remand and for releasing portions of the video linked to the attack on the estranged brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“I put it to you that your failure to copy all the footage from the CCTV server from the KLIA airport compromised the defense of Siti,” Gooi told Wan Azirul.
He added that police failed to investigate crucial evidence such as Siti’s jeans and glasses that were not sent for lab tests.
“Even the chemistry department tests showed that Siti’s finger nail cuttings, nail swabs and blood had no traces of VX,” the attorney said, referring to an internationally banned nerve agent used in the attack.
Gooi said he might have more questions for Wan Azriul after Doan’s lawyers finished their cross examination.
State Department statement
During the court session, Hisyam and Gooi asked Judge Azmi Ariffin to allow a statement by the U.S. State Department confirming that the North Korea government used VX to kill Kim. It was the first official statement from the U.S. government linking North Korean government directly to his death.
“The United States strongly condemns the use of chemical weapons to conduct an assassination,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in the statement dated March 6.
Azmi said he would decide at some point in the trial whether to admit the statement.