Asia Pacific

'My life is in danger': Kim Jong Nam told Japanese friend he feared for his life, Malaysian court hears

Reuters, Kyodo

Kim Jong Nam, the poisoned half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, told a Japanese friend in Malaysia his life was in danger six months before he was killed, a police official told a court on Tuesday.

Two women, Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, have been charged with murdering Kim by smearing his face with VX, a banned chemical poison, at Kuala Lumpur airport on Feb. 13 last year.

They were charged together with four North Koreans, Hong Song Hac, Ri Ji Hyon, Ri Jae Nam and O Jong Gil, who are still at large, with the murder.

Defense lawyers say the women thought they were playing a prank for a reality show, as they had been paid to do elsewhere at airports and shopping malls, and did not know they were poisoning Kim. Aisyah told the police that Hong had paid her $600 each time he asked her to perform a “prank,” allegedly for a Japanese YouTube program. They first met at Phnom Penh International Airport on Jan. 21 last year through another North Korean, Ri Ji U.

With Hong, she played several “pranks” at the Cambodian airport, as well as around Kuala Lumpur and at its airport.

They face the death penalty if convicted.

Kim arrived in Malaysia on Feb. 6 last year and was picked up at the airport by the driver of friend Tomie Yoshio, lead police investigator Wan Azirul Nizam Che Wan Aziz said.

The driver was instructed to take Kim to his lodgings and other places he wanted to go after Kim told Yoshio his “life was in danger” during a prior visit to Malaysia.

“Six months before the incident on Feb. 13, Kim Jong Nam said ‘I am scared for my life and I want a driver,’ ” Wan Azirul said, citing police interviews with Yoshio.

He did not give any other details about Yoshio or his whereabouts.

Gooi Soon Seng, Siti Aisyah’s lawyer, has argued the killing was politically motivated, with key suspects linked to the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, suggesting his client was being made a scapegoat.

Kim had criticized his family’s dynastic rule of North Korea, some South Korean officials have said.

Under questioning, Wan Azirul agreed with Gooi that the two accused women had no motive for the killing, but denied accusations that the police investigation had been “lop-sided.”

Gooi had earlier asked about Hong Song Hac, a North Korean who had paid Siti Aisyah to act on a prank show and was caught on airport video recordings fleeing the country on the day of the killing.

Hong, one of the four North Koreans charged with the murder, was an official with the North Korean Embassy in Indonesia from 2016 to 2017, Gooi told the court, citing records obtained from Indonesia’s foreign ministry.

Wan Azirul could not confirm Gooi’s assertion, admitting he had not looked into Hong’s background despite naming Hong as a suspect.