Asia Pacific / Crime & Legal

Airport CCTV spots co-defendant in Kim Jong Nam assassination 'practicing' wiping stranger's face days earlier

Kyodo

Footage from an airport security camera showed Vietnamese defendant Doan Thi Huong “practicing” wiping the face of a stranger two days before she allegedly took part in the murder of the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un using a similar technique, police told a Malaysian court on Tuesday.

Azirul Nizam Che Wan Aziz, the investigating officer, said he reviewed the CCTV footage taken at Kuala Lumpur International Airport’s budget terminal on Feb. 11 and compared it with footage taken the day of the attack that killed Kim Jong Nam.

Huong, 29, and Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25, are on trial for murdering Kim on Feb. 13 in the departure hall by smearing his face with VX, a highly lethal nerve agent that is listed as a weapon of mass destruction by the United Nations and is banned by the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention.

The CCTV footage on Feb. 11 showed Huong picking out a stranger at random, approaching him from behind, and then appearing to swipe something on his face, according to Azirul.

“When the stranger turned toward her, Doan appeared to be saying ‘sorry’ by bowing her head and clasping her hands together. She then took two or three steps backward, turned around and walked away slowly,” he told the court.

The women’s defense is that they were duped into performing “pranks” on strangers for a hidden camera television show.

Azirul is expected to continue his testimony on Wednesday. The CCTV recordings will also be screened in court.

CCTV footage from the terminal’s departure hall on the day Kim died showed the two women coming from behind, one after the other, and appearing to smear his face with something while he was standing near the check-in kiosk.

A postmortem report concluded that Kim died of VX nerve agent poisoning.

Continuing his testimony on Tuesday morning, government chemist Raja Subramaniam estimated the VX concentration on Kim’s facial skin to be 0.2 mg per kilogram of body weight, “about 1.4 times the lethal dosage.”

According to literature, he said, the lethal dosage on skin is 0.142 mg/kg of body weight.

Raja said he found the highest concentration of VX on Kim’s blazer. VX was also found on his T-shirt, on his face, in his eyes and in his plasma.

Last week, Raja, who heads the Center for Chemical Weapons Analysis in the Chemistry Department, testified that VX was found on Huong’s T-shirt, while precursors and degradation products were also found on both women’s clothing and nail clippings, though not on their skin.

On Tuesday, he clarified that those precursors and degradation products were all non-toxic.

The chemist, whose department is under the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, repeated that washing under running water and scrubbing within 15 minutes after the skin comes into contact with VX could result in no effect or a delayed effect of the deadly poison.

During cross examination by Aisyah’s lawyer, Gooi Soon Seng, Raja said he also analyzed “liquid” and gloves taken from Ri Jong Chol, a North Korean with a degree in chemistry who was briefly detained by the police before being released and deported in early March after they did not find enough evidence to charge him.

Gooi told reporters later that the items seized from Ri’s apartment all tested negative for VX.

After his release, Ri slammed Malaysian authorities for allegedly using coercion to extract a confession from him. He denied he was at the airport or that his car was used. He claimed it was all a conspiracy to damage North Korea’s reputation.

Ri was one of eight North Koreans whom police had identified previously with links to the murder.

Malaysian police, as well as South Korea and the United States, suspected that North Korean agents masterminded the assassination.

Huong and Aisyah are charged with murder together with four North Koreans who fled the country just hours after the assassination.

Meanwhile, three other North Koreans were allowed to leave the country after police took their statements.