11 July 2024

Kuala Lumpur (AFP) — A Vietnamese woman accused of assassinating the North Korean leader’s half-brother will walk free in May after pleading guilty to a lesser charge, her lawyer said.

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 murder of Kim Jong Nam with a nerve agent.

Huong was sentenced her to three years and four months in jail from her arrest in February 2017. 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 decision came after authorities last month rejected a request for her murder charge to be dropped — a shock decision after the attorney-general agreed to withdraw the charge against her Indonesian co-defendant, Siti Aisyah.

Both women had always denied murder, saying they were tricked by North Korean spies into carrying out the assassination that shocked the world, and believed it was a prank for a reality TV show.

Huong then pleaded guilty to a new charge which said she had “purposely caused injury” to Kim by employing “dangerous means” in attacking him with VX at Kuala Lumpur airport, rather than the original murder charge which carries a mandatory death penalty.

Huong told reporters: “I’m happy, this is a fair sentence.”

“This is a fair judgement, I thank the Malaysian government and the Vietnamese government,” she added.

When she is released, it will mean that no one is facing murder charges for the February 2017 killing of Kim Jong Un’s estranged relative, who was once considered heir apparent to the North Korean leadership until he fell out of favour.

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

The women’s lawyers presented them as scapegoats and said the real masterminds were four North Koreans accused alongside them, who fled Malaysia shortly after the assassination.

There were dramatic scenes when Huong’s initial bid for immediate release was rejected last month — she sobbed in the dock and had to be helped out of court by two police officers.

Vietnam reacted angrily to the decision, and started stepping up pressure on Malaysia to free Huong.

A murder conviction carries a mandatory penalty of death by hanging in Malaysia. The government vowed last year to scrap capital punishment but recently indicated that it might backtrack.