Vietnamese escapes gallows in Jong-nam murder case

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Doan Thi Huong (center) leaves the court following a request to drop her charges in Shah Alam, Malaysia on March 14. Xinhua

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – A Malaysian judge yesterday sentenced a Vietnamese woman accused of killing the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to more than three years in prison for causing harm, after prosecutors dropped a murder charge against her.

Doan Thi Huong, who has already served two years in jail, could be released as early as next month in accordance with Malaysian law, her lawyers said.

Ms Huong, 30, and an Indonesian woman, Siti Aisyah, were charged with killing Kim Jong-nam by smearing his face with VX poison, a lethal chemical weapon, at Kuala Lumpur’s main airport in February 2017.

Prosecutors yesterday offered Ms Huong an alternative charge of ‘causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means’. The reduced charge was offered after receiving representations from the Vietnamese embassy and the woman’s lawyers, they said.

Ms Huong pleaded guilty to the alternative charge, which carries a jail term of up to ten years, a financial penalty or whipping. She would have faced a mandatory death penalty if found guilty of murder.

Judge Azmi Ariffin sentenced Ms Huong to three years and four months in prison for the reduced charged of causing harm.

The judge told Ms Huong she was “a very, very lucky person indeed” that the prosecutors offered her the alternative charge.

Wearing a red baju kurung, a traditional Malay dress, with a headscarf, Ms Huong stood and nodded as the judge delivered the sentencing.

Vietnamese officials in court broke into applause after the ruling.

Prosecutors sprung a surprise last month by dropping the murder charge against Ms Siti Aisyah. They later declined to do the same for Ms Huong without giving a reason for the decision and despite appeals from Vietnam’s government.

Four North Korean men have also been charged, but they left Malaysia hours after the murder and remain at large.

Defense lawyers have maintained the women were pawns in an assassination orchestrated by North Korean agents. The women said they thought they were part of a reality prank show and did not know they were poisoning Mr Jong-nam.

Mr Jong-nam was living in exile in Macau before the killing, having fled his homeland after his half-brother became North Korea’s leader in 2011 following their father’s death.

South Korean and American officials have said the North Korean regime had ordered the assassination of Mr Jong-nam, who had been critical of his family’s dynastic rule. Pyongyang has denied the allegation.

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