Pacific News Minute: Malaysia Releases Second Suspect In Kim Jong Nam Assassination

May 8, 2019

Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, center, is escorted by police as she leaves Shah Alam High Court in Shah Alam, Malaysia, Monday, April 1, 2019. The Vietnamese woman who is the only suspect in custody for the killing of the North Korean leader's brother Kim Jong Nam pleaded guilty to a lesser charge in a Malaysian court on Monday and her lawyer said she could be freed as early as next month.
Credit AP Photo/Vincent Thian

Tensions with North Korea have stepped up following a missile test last week and a report that Kim Jong Un ordered the execution of four officials who participated at the failed Hanoi summit. But legal proceedings in another North Korean murder are apparently over.

Two years ago, Kim Jong Nam went to Kuala Lumpur’s International Airport to board a flight to Macau. Security footage showed two women walking up behind him. One put her hands on his face, then both walked away. Shortly afterwards, the exiled half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un collapsed and died from what tests showed to be the lethal nerve agent VX.

Malaysian authorities quickly arrested two foreigners – Doan Thi Huong of Vietnam, and Indonesian Siti Asiyah. Both women were charged with murder, along with four North Korean men, but they had already boarded flights to Pyongyang.

Police also wanted to question three men inside the North Korean Embassy, but they were allowed to leave after a diplomatic stand off. Which left the two women holding the bag.

Both maintained they were innocent dupes – they thought they were part of a prank for a television show. After high-level lobbying from Indonesia, charges were dropped against Siti Asiyah in March and last week, Doan Thi Huong was allowed to plead to a lesser charge and released after more than two years in prison.

U.S. and South Korean authorities say there’s no doubt that the murder was ordered by Kim Jong Un to eliminate a potential rival. Publicly, at least, Malaysia has been more circumspect. But privately, officials are reportedly furious that North Korea used a banned weapon of mass destruction at the country’s largest airport.

North Korea vehemently denies any responsibility.