Women accused of Kim Jong-Nam murder to go on trial in October

Doan Thi Huong (left) and Siti Aisyah Photo: Reuters

Two women accused of the Cold War-style assassination of the half-brother of North Korea's leader in Malaysia will go on trial in October, a judge said Friday.

Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong are accused of rubbing the highly toxic VX nerve agent in the face of Kim Jong-Nam as he waited to board a plane at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in February.

The women, who face the death penalty if convicted, deny carrying out the killing and say they were duped into believing they were taking part in a reality TV show.

At a heavily guarded court outside the capital, the women, both in their 20s, arrived wearing bullet-proof vests and handcuffs, and were taken past a waiting pack of journalists.

Judge Azmi Ariffin told the 30-minute hearing at the High Court in Shah Alam that the trial would begin on October 2 and would take place over 23 days.

"I am making a ruling that both the cases will be tried jointly," he told the packed courtroom.

Prosecutor Muhammad Iskandar Ahmad said 30 to 40 witnesses would be called.

Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, a lawyer for Huong, said the judge had decided to take the women's pleas at the start of the trial. The women's lawyers had previously said they expected the pair to enter not guilty pleas on Friday.

Seoul accuses North Korea of being behind the murder of Kim Jong-Un's estranged relative, a charge Pyongyang denies.

The murder - which took place as Kim Jong-Nam was about to board a flight to Macau  - sparked a serious diplomatic row between Malaysia and North Korea, with Kuala Lumpur expelling the North's ambassador and Pyongyang banning Malaysians from leaving the country.

Tensions eased when Malaysia agreed to the return of Kim body to Pyongyang. Under the terms of that agreement, nine Malaysians prevented from leaving Pyongyang were freed and three North Koreans in Malaysia were allowed to go home.

Police are still trying to trace four North Koreans suspected of having taken part in the murder plot but who are believed to have returned to their capital immediately after the killing.