Asia Pacific / Crime & Legal

Kim Jong Nam murder trial hears how accused Vietnamese 'actress' was recruited

Kyodo

A Vietnamese woman who introduced her compatriot to the North Korean masterminds behind the assassination of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, believes she was duped, a Malaysian court heard Wednesday.

Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, the defense lawyer for Doan Thi Huong, 29, presented a statement given by Nguyen Bich Thuy to the Vietnamese police on March 1, 2017, two weeks after Kim Jong Nam was murdered at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. In the statement, Thuy, 32, detailed how Huong was recruited by Ri Ji Hyon, one of four North Koreans wanted by the Malaysian authorities.

Huong has been charged at the Shah Alam High Court together with Siti Aisyah, 26, from Indonesia, and the four North Koreans still at large with killing Kim Jong Nam on Feb. 13, 2017. Huong and Aisyah were caught on airport security cameras wiping his face with what is believed to be the deadly nerve agent VX.

The four North Koreans — Ri Ji Hyon, Ri Jae Nam, Hong Song Hac and O Jong Gil — were also seen at the airport on that fateful day. They fled the country hours after the murder.

During cross examination of the chief police investigator Wan Azirul Nizam, Hisyam produced an affidavit Thuy had made in October last year that also contained her police statement.

In her statement, Thuy said, “I realized that Huong might be made full use of by ‘Li’ to assassinate a person in Malaysia.”

“Li” was the name that Ri Ji Hyon introduced himself to Thuy with.

“I and all friends of Huong never believe that Huong could kill a person and she even does not have the courage to do so,” she added.

Thuy said she and Huong used to work together as waitresses at the Seventeen Bar in Hanoi from 2014 to May 2016. Though not very close, she described Huong as “sociable and easy going” who liked traveling and acting.

On Dec. 27, 2016, Ri Ji Hyon came to the Hay Bar in Hanoi that was run by Thuy and her husband. Ri Ji Hyon claimed he had a Korean father and Vietnamese mother and that he was married but divorced with no children.

He offered Thuy a job as an actress but Thuy refused because she had to take care of her young son. Then Ri Ji Hyon asked her to introduce him to one of her friends. Thuy remembered Huong loved acting and she contacted her.

When Huong came by the bar to meet Ri Ji Hyon, Thuy heard him telling Huong that his team was making prank videos at the airport and she was required to “dress nicely, pass by another person and pour a cup of liquid on his/her head.”

In Huong’s statement to the Malaysian police on Feb. 18, 2017, three days after her arrest, she listed her occupation as “actress.”

Huong confirmed meeting Ri Ji Hyon on the same day she received a call from Thuy about a “Korean man” wanting to make a “funny video.”

In Huong’s statement, which was tendered in court Wednesday as evidence after Azirul confirmed it, she said Ri Ji Hyon spoke “very good” Vietnamese.

A week after that first meeting, she did her first prank opposite Big Theater in Hanoi.

Afterward, Huong and Ri Ji Hyon were met by Ri Jae Nam, whom Ri Ji Hyon claimed was his boss.

During his cross examination, Azirul came under fire from Huong’s lawyer after he admitted not seeking out Thuy even through Huong mentioned her in her statement. He agreed that Thuy would have been an important witness because she could confirm the veracity of Huong’s statement to the police.

Azirul testified that he did not take any measures to interrogate her himself or seek the assistance of the Vietnamese police.

“I put it to you that you are biased, not independent, not interested in the truth and your investigation only focused on your interpretation of the CCTV videos shown in court,” Hisyam said.

He told reporters outside court that Thuy’s police statement came about because the Vietnamese police took their own initiative to investigate after Kim Jong Nam’s murder made headlines around the world.

The hearing will resume on Thursday.

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