Vietnamese suspect in Kim Jong Nam assassination freed

A Vietnamese woman who spent more than two years in a Malaysian prison on suspicion of killing the half-brother of North Korea’s leader has been freed.

Doan Thi Huong, 30, was charged along with an Indonesian woman of poisoning Kim Jong Nam by smearing his face with liquid VX, a banned chemical weapon, at Kuala Lumpur airport in February 2017.

Huong received a jail term of several years which was cut due to sentence remissions.

After a lengthy trial, Doan Thi Huong pleaded guilty last month to a lesser charge of “causing injury” over the 2017 assassination of Kim Jong Nam, making her the only person convicted for a murder that made headlines around the world.

Malaysian prosecutors dropped a murder charge following that.

She was freed from a prison outside the Malaysian capital at about 7:20am (23:20 GMT Thursday), her lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik told AFP news agency, adding that she would return to Vietnam later on Friday.

Weeks earlier, Indonesian Siti Aisyah – the only other person to face trial over the killing – was released and flew home after her murder charge was withdrawn. 

The pair always denied having committed murder, arguing that they were pawns in a plan hatched by North Korean agents who fled Malaysia after the killing.

South Korea accused Pyongyang of plotting the assassination.

Journalists waiting outside the jail saw a van and a car with tinted windows race past, and a court official at the scene also confirmed Huong had been released.

Speaking before her release, Hisyam had said she was “definitely looking forward to going home”.

The 30-year-old former hair salon worker was expected to head to an immigration office in the administrative capital Putrajaya to sort out documentation, before flying to Vietnam.

While there is relief for the women – who said they believed they were taking part in a TV show prank – those behind the plot are unlikely to ever face justice.

“The assassins have not been brought to justice,” said Hisyam, adding the women’s legal teams consistently argued their North Korean handlers were the real murderers.

The pair were arrested after they were captured on airport CCTV cameras walking up behind Kim, as he waited for a flight, and one was seen clasping her hands over his face.

Kim, heir apparent to North Korea‘s leadership until he was exiled from his homeland, died in agony shortly afterwards, his face smeared with poison.

The defence stage of the case was due to start in March, but in a shock move, prosecutors announced they were withdrawing the murder charge against Aisyah, 27, and she flew back to Jakarta.

Her release followed intense diplomatic pressure from Indonesia, including from President Joko Widodo.

Vietnam then stepped up pressure for Huong’s murder charge to be dropped. Their initial request was refused, but at the start of April prosecutors offered her a reduced charge, paving the way for her release.

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