Bangkok: Lawyers say the defence of two Asian women accused of the nerve-agent assassination of Kim Jong-nam has been damaged by Malaysia allowing North Korean suspects to leave the country.
Gooi Soon Seng, a lawyer acting for 25-year-old Indonesian Siti Aiysah, says a suspect identified as Ri Ji-u, known as James, “is a key to our defence” as Ms Aiysah had met Mr Ri before the attack on Mr Kim at Kuala Lumpur airport on February 13.
She and 28-year-old Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong claim they were duped into believing they were taking part in a television prank show, Just for Laughs.
Lawyers for both women complained during a court hearing in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday about the release of Mr Ri and two other North Korean suspects on March 30, one of them a diplomat at North Korea’s embassy. They also complained they have not being provided with statements police obtained from the suspects.
The North Koreans were allowed to leave Malaysia under a deal brokered to end a bitter dispute between Malaysia and North Korea over Mr Kim’s body. Mr Kim was half-brother of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un.
North Korea had barred Malaysians from leaving the country, prompting a tit-for-tat response from Malaysia, following a rarely seen diplomatic meltdown from North Korea following the murder.
Malaysia’s decision to allow the suspects to leave came despite Prime Minister Najib Razak saying his government believed strongly in the principles of justice and sovereignty and that investigations into the murder would continue.
“Our police investigation into this serious crime on Malaysian soil will continue and I have instructed all possible measures be taken to bring those responsible to justice,” Mr Najib said in late March.
Under the deal negotiated with North Korean officials who travelled to Kuala Lumpur, nine Malaysians were allowed to fly out of Pyongyang to return to Malaysia.
About 1000 North Koreans in Malaysia were also allowed to leave Malaysia. Most of them were low-paid labourers.
Malaysia also agreed to allow Mr Kim’s body to be returned to North Korea, although it is believed his closest next-of-kin are hiding in China.
The charges against Ms Siti and Ms Doan were referred for re-mentioning on May 30. They face execution if found guilty.
Malaysian police identified eight North Koreans as suspects in the assassination.
Four of the suspects left Kuala Lumpur immediately after Mr Kim’s death. Four North Koreans were deported.