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Doan Thi Huong pleaded guilty to causing hurt over the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-uns half-brother

A Vietnamese woman accused of assassinating the North Korean leaders half-brother has accepted a lesser charge of causing hurt by a dangerous weapon and will be released next month.

Doan Thi Huong welcomed the fair sentence after the judge handed down the verdict in a Malaysian court, where she has been on trial for the 2017 murder of Kim Jong-nam with the nerve agent VX.

Doan was sentenced to three years and four months in jail but her legal team said that with usual sentence reductions, she would be released next month.

In the first week of May, she will go home, lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik told reporters in the Shah Alam High Court, outside Kuala Lumpur.

The sentence came after the prosecution allowed Doan to plead guilty on Monday to a reduced sentence of purposely causing injury by employing dangerous means, which carries a maximum of 10 years in jail. The original murder charge carried a mandatory death penalty.

The surprise reduction in charges came after authorities rejected a request for her murder charge to be dropped entirely last month, following the attorney-generals decision to withdraw the charge against her Indonesian co-defendant, Siti.

Both women had always denied murder, saying they believed they were participating in a prank for a reality TV show and had been tricked by North Korean spies.


The death of Kim Jong-nam

Kim Jong-nam born

The eldest son of Kim Jong-il when his father takes control of North Korea in 1994, Kim Jong-nam is assumed to be the designated successor.

Deported from Japan

Kim Jong-nam is deported from Japan after trying to enter the country on a fake passport. He is subsequently removed from the succession in favour of his younger half-brother Kim Jong-il. He goes into exile, occasionally criticising the North Korean regime.

Kim Jong-nam dies

Kim Jong-nam dies on his way to hospital after seeking help at an information desk in Kuala Lumpur airport because he felt dizzy. CCTV footage emerges which appears to show him being attacked as a woman approaches him and places something over his face from behind.

First arrests

A 28-year-old woman, Doan Thi Huong, who holds a Vietnamese passport, is arrested by authorities in connection with the death. Images from the airport show that she had been wearing a white jumper with ‘LOL’ emblazoned upon it at the time of Kim’s death. An Indonesian, Siti Aisyah, 25, is arrested the following day.

More arrests

After Siti Aisyah’s boyfriend, Muhammad Farid bin Jalaluddin, is also arrested, Ri Jong-chol becomes the fourth person to be picked up by investigators, and the only suspect from North Korea.

North Korea outraged

North Korea demands that Malaysia stop investigating the death, with the state news agency insisting Kim died of a heart attack, not poisoning, and blaming South Korea for a conspiratorial racket.

Nerve agent confirmed

Malaysian police announce that Kim was killed with the banned VX nerve agent, classified by the UN as a weapon of mass destruction. Malaysias health minister later says the dose was so high it killed him ‘within 15 to 20 minutes‘.

‘Prank’ mystery

Siti Aisyah says she waspaid $90 to take part in what she believed was a prank.

Travel ban

The diplomatic row over the death escalates to tit-for-tat travel bans being enforced between Malaysia and North Korea. Previously Malaysia had been one of very few countries to allow easy travel to North Korea.

Body returned

Kim Jong-nam’s body is repatriated. The same plane carries three North Korean men initially named by Malaysian police as suspects in his murder.

Not guilty pleas

Siti Aisyah and Doan Thi Huong plead not guilty at the start of their trial. Three days later the court hears how traces of the banned VX nerve agent were found on both women.

Re-enactment chaos

There are chaotic scenes at Kuala Lumpur airport as suspects Siti Aisyah and Doan Thi Huong, handcuffed and wearing bulletproof vests, are walked around the alleged crime scene in a re-enactment. Halfway through the visit, the distressed women cannot continue on their own, and are then pushed around in wheelchairs.

Missed opportunity

The court is told that Kim Jong-nam wascarrying an antidote to the nerve agent that killed him in his bag at the time of his death. Before his death he was said to be paranoid that the North Korean regime would strike against him.

Trained assassins claim

As the women’s trial continues, the Malaysian prosecution argues that the pair must have been trained as assassins, alleging that footage showing them heading to the bathrooms shortly after the attack indicates that they knew they had to remove the lethal nerve agent from their skin.

Aisyah freed

Two years after her initial arrest, and 17 months after her trial began, charges are unexpectedly dropped against Siti Aisyah, and she is released. The trial of Doan Thi Huong is expected to continue.

The prosecutor Iskandar Ahmad told the court on Monday that he had received instructions from the attorney general to offer a lower alternative charge to Doan.

Doan was highly emotional, seeming to be crying throughout the court hearing as she pleaded guilty to the reduced charge.

The judge, Azmi Ariffin, told Doan she had been lucky to escape a death sentence and should be grateful the attorney general agreed to the plea bargain.

You are a very lucky person today, because from the original charge of murder, which carries a mandatory death sentence, the prosecutor has offered a lesser charge of voluntarily causing harm with VX, said Azmi.

The verdict brings to an end the high-profile trial and means no one is facing murder charges for the killing of Kim Jong-nam, a crime the prosecutor likened to something from a James Bond film.

Kim Jong Nam was killed with the VX nerve agent at Kuala Lumpur airport in 2017. The two women were accused of smearing the toxic nerve agent on his face as he waited to board a flight to Macau. He died within 20 minutes.

Both Siti and Doan claimed they had unknowingly been tricked into carrying out the attack by North Korean operatives, who told them they were playing a prank for a Japanese comedy show. They both claim they thought they were smearing lotion on Kim Jong-nams face.


Who was Kim Jong-nam?

Born 10 May 1971, Kim Jong-nam was the eldest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

Kim Jong-il ruled the country from 1994 to 2011, and during much of that period, Kim Jong-nam had been considered his fathers designated successor.

However that changed with an incident in 2001, when he was deported from Japan after trying to enter the country on a fake passport. He claimed at the time that he wanted to visit Disneyland. The publicity surrounding the event reportedly infuriated his father, and Kim Jong-nam was pushed aside in favour of his younger half-brother, current North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

He is thought to have then lived in exile for years, and unlike other relatives in the Kim dynasty, did not hold an official title or play any part in governing North Korea. He chose a largely private life, but his few public comments included blunt criticism of the North Korea. Just weeks into his younger half-brothers rule, he reportedly described the regime as a joke to the outside world, and said he opposed the hereditary transfer of power in the country.

Kim Jong-nam died on 13 February 2017, after being attacked with VX nerve agent while he was travelling under a false name from Malaysias Kuala Lumpur International Airport to Macau.

Justin McCurryand Emma Graham-Harrison

Photograph: Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP

The four North Koreans the women say were the masterminds of the operation fled Malaysia in the hours after the crime.

South Korea accuses the North of ordering the hit, a claim vehemently denied by Pyongyang.

In Doans home province of Nam Dinh, her step mother Nguyen Thi Vy said: I just hope she will be released … She has always been a nice girl.

There were dramatic scenes when Doans initial bid for immediate release was rejected last month, with Doan sobbing in the dock and having to be assisted from the room by police officers.

The Indonesian government has claimed that the release of Doans co-accused Siti Aisyah in March in a shock decision that delighted her friends and family was due to its continual high-level lobbying.

Jokowi, who is facing an election next month, met the Malaysian prime minister, Mahathir, last July to address Sitis case.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/apr/01/kim-jong-nam-trial-malaysia-prosecutors-lower-charge-trial-doan-thi-huong