Doan Thi Huong pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of causing hurt by a dangerous weapon. (Reuters: Lai Seng Sin)
A Vietnamese woman accused of colluding with four missing North Korean suspects to assassinate the estranged half brother of Kim Jong-un has been sentenced to more than three years in prison for fatally smearing a deadly nerve agent on his face at a Malaysian airport.
- Prosecutors downgraded the murder charge against Doan Thi Huong for her role in Kim Jong-nam’s death
- Huong is expected to be released from prison by May after a reduction in her sentence for good behaviour
- She was the only suspect in custody after charges against her co-accused Siti Aisyah were dropped earlier in the month
Doan Thi Huong, who was the only suspect in custody for the killing of Kim Jong-nam, pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of causing hurt by a dangerous weapon after her murder charge was downgraded by prosecutors on Monday.
Mr Kim’s estranged half brother died in February, 2017 after Huong and Indonesian woman Siti Aisyah covered his face with a nerve agent inside a crowded airport terminal in Kuala Lumpur.
The US said Pyongyang had used the chemical warfare agent VX in the public assassination, and both women had claimed they were duped by North Korean agents into thinking they were playing a harmless prank for a hidden-camera TV show.
The charges against Ms Siti were dropped earlier in March, but Huong’s case for acquittal was rejected by prosecutors.
On Monday she was sentenced to three years and four months in prison for her role in Mr Kim’s death.
“It is my view that the length of imprisonment would serve the interest of justice,” Judge Azmi Ariffin told the court.
He told Huong she was “very, very lucky” and he wished her “all the best”.
Kim Jong-nam was killed when he was touched with an oily substance identified as VX nerve agent. (AP: Shin In-seop/JoongAng Ilbo, File)
Huong stood up in the dock and through her translator, thanked the judge, prosecutors and the Malaysian and Vietnamese Governments.
She told reporters before leaving the courtroom she was happy and hoped to be a singer and actress when she returned to Vietnam.
Huong’s lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik said she was expected to be freed by the first week of May, after a one-third reduction for good behaviour.
“I am highly appreciative that she will be released very soon, but I want to emphasise that she is a victim like the Indonesian, Siti Aisyah,” Vietnam’s ambassador to Malaysia Le Quy Qunyh said.
Women were pawns in political assassination, lawyers claim
Huong was the only suspect in custody after the Attorney-General’s stunning decision to drop the case against Ms Siti on March 11 after high-level lobbying from Jakarta.
She sought to be acquitted after Ms Aisyah was freed, but prosecutors rejected her request.
The murder charge against each woman alleged they colluded with four missing North Korean suspects to murder Kim Jong-nam.
The women have said they thought they were taking part in a harmless prank when they swiped their hands over his face with an oily substance, later identified as nerve agent VX.
The four North Koreans fled the country the morning of February 13, 2017 after the two women had accosted Mr Kim in a Kuala Lumpur airport terminal.
A High Court judge last August found there was enough evidence to infer that Aisyah, Huong and the four missing North Koreans engaged in a “well-planned conspiracy” to kill Kim and had called on the two women to present their defence.
Lawyers for the women have previously 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, and Huong would have faced a death sentence if she was convicted of murder.
Malaysian officials have never officially accused North Korea and have made it clear they do not want the trial politicised.
Kim Jong-nam was the eldest son in the current generation of North Korea’s ruling family.
He had been living abroad for years but could have been seen as a threat to Kim Jong-un’s rule.