SHAH ALAM, Malaysia (AP) — A Vietnamese woman who is the only suspect in custody for the killing of the North Korean leader’s brother pleaded guilty to a lesser charge in a Malaysian court Monday and her lawyer asked for leniency.
Doan Thi Huong nodded as a translator read the new charge to her. She had faced a murder charge, which carried the death penalty if she was convicted. The new charge of voluntarily causing injury with a dangerous weapon, by using VX nerve agent, carries a maximum possible sentence of 10 years in jail.
Her lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik told the court that her guilty plea showed Huong “has taken responsibility” for her actions. In asking for a lenient sentence, he also told the court that her move saved judicial time.
Hisyam urged the judge to take into account Huong’s honesty, her acceptance of responsibility and the acquittal of her co-defedant.
“She is neither a criminal nor has the propensity to commit a crime,” Hisyam said.
Huong, the youngest of five children, has a promising future with a degree in accountancy but she is also “naive and gullible,” he said.
Hisyam said four North Korean suspects still at large were the “real assassins.”
They “exploited her weakness and manipulated her to carry out their evil designs under the camouflage of funny videos and pranks,” he said.
Hisyam said Huong had been punished physically and emotionally since she was detained two years ago and urged the judge to temper justice with mercy.
Vietnamese Ambassador Le Quy Qunyh said he was unhappy as he expected Huong to be freed immediately.
“I am not happy with this. I hope that she can be released today. It’s not fair to her. We will keep requesting Malaysia to release her,” he told reporters.
Huong is the only suspect in custody after the attorney general’s’ stunning decision to drop the case against Indonesian Siti Aisyah on March 11 following high-level lobbying from Jakarta. Huong sought to be acquitted after Aisyah was freed, but prosecutors rejected her request.
The murder charge had alleged the two women colluded with the four missing North Koreans to murder Kim Jong Nam. The women have said they thought they were taking part in a harmless prank for a TV show when they swiped their hands over his face with an oily substance identified as VX nerve agent. The four North Koreans fled the country the morning of Feb. 13, 2017, after the two women had accosted Kim in a Kuala Lumpur airport terminal.
The High Court judge last August had found there was enough evidence to infer that Aisyah, Huong and the four North Koreans engaged in a “well-planned conspiracy” to kill Kim and had called on the two women to present their defense.
Huong’s lawyers have accused Attorney-General Tommy Thomas of being unfair and discriminating against Huong. The Bar Council and some lawmakers have urged Thomas to be transparent and explain his decision, although he isn’t obliged to do so.
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.
Malaysian officials have never officially accused North Korea and have made it clear they don’t want the trial politicized.
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.