Lawyer confident of Indonesia woman’s acquittal in murder case of Kim’s half brother

In this March 1, 2017 photo, Indonesian Siti Aishah leaves a Malaysian court after she was charged with the murder of North Korea's Kim Jong Nam at the Malaysia airport. (REUTERS file)
Updated 12 July 2018

Lawyer confident of Indonesia woman’s acquittal in murder case of Kim’s half brother

  • Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Vietnamese national Doan Thi Huong are accused of killing Kim Jong Nam by smearing his face with a piece of cloth laced with the deadly VX nerve agent poison.
  • Kim Jong Nam, the half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was living in exile in Malaysia at the time of his assassination.

JAKARTA: The Indonesian woman accused of killing Kim Jong Nam, the half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, is likely to be acquitted as the evidence against her is circumstantial, her lawyer said on Wednesday.

The Malaysian High Court in Shah Alam, Selangor, has set the date for a court hearing on Aug. 16, when the judge will rule on whether Siti Aisyah, 26, and her co-defendant Vietnamese national Doan Thi Huong, 29, will be acquitted or called to make their defense in further court hearings.

“I am confident that Siti Aisyah will be acquitted without her defense being called for as the evidence produced by the prosecutor was wholly circumstantial,” Aisyah’s lawyer Gooi Soon Seng told journalists.

 “There was no eyewitness to the incident and the case was based on CCTV footage, which showed that Siti Aisyah did not attack the deceased,” he said. He added that CCTV footage only showed Doan attacking Kim Jong Nam and, unlike Aisyah, Doan admitted that she had attacked him.

 Both women are accused on separate charges of killing Kim Jong Nam by smearing his face with a piece of cloth laced with the deadly VX nerve agent poison, but are being jointly tried as the evidence and witnesses are the same.

 Gooi said that the prosecutor relied on Kim Jong Nam’s final words to prove that two women attacked him, but there was a contradiction from two witnesses about the number of women who had attacked him.

 A security officer at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, where the murder took place on Feb. 13, 2017, testified in court that Kim Jong Nam told her two women attacked him, however a nurse at the airport clinic testified that he told her he was attacked by one woman. “The nurse’s evidence was corroborated by the doctor’s medical note, which stated that Kim Jong Nam was attacked by one woman. The material contradiction was never explained by the prosecutor,” Gooi said. 

 Other evidence supporting Gooi’s defense of Aisyah’s innocence was that her DNA was not found on a shirt that the prosecutor said contained traces of VX nerve agent. The shirt was confiscated from the hotel room where Aisyah was arrested. The police officer who arrested her and seized the shirt testified that he stored it in a black plastic bag, while the investigating officer said that he received the shirt in a clear plastic bag.

 “There was a break in the chain of evidence,” Gooi said, adding Aisyah’s fingernail clippings also did not show any traces of VX agent and she did not suffer any symptoms relating to VX poisoning.

 Aisyah was also charged in having a common intention to commit murder with four North Koreans, who fled Malaysia after the incident and were still at large but whose names were not mentioned in the charge.

Gooi said that the prosecutor had failed to prove with direct evidence that Aisyah had the intention to kill the deceased.

 “In defense, we told the court that Aisyah was at the airport because she was asked to go there to do a prank,” Gooi said, adding that the burden lay with the prosecution to prove otherwise.

 Gooi said that political assasination could not be ruled out in this case since the four North Korean suspects were allegedly linked to the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

Lalu Muhammad Iqbal, the Foreign Ministry’s director for the protection of Indonesians abroad, told Arab News that the court hearing on Aug. 16 would rule if the evidence and witnesses presented so far would be sufficient to establish a case until proven otherwise.

 “If they are insufficient, Aisyah should be acquitted of the charges against her,” Iqbal said, adding that Aisyah’s defense team had repeteadly asked the judge to put on record the inconsistencies and contradictions of evidence and witnesses presented by the prosecutor.

Aisyah faces a death sentence by hanging if found guilty of murdering Kim Jong Nam.

Firefighters battle wildfire in Portugal, 32 people hurt

Updated 13 min 20 sec ago

Firefighters battle wildfire in Portugal, 32 people hurt

COLOS, Portugal: More than 1,000 firefighters battled a major wildfire Monday amid scorching temperatures in Portugal, where forest blazes wreak destruction every summer.
About 90% of the fire area in the Castelo Branco district, 200 kilometers (about 125 miles) northeast of the capital Lisbon, was brought under control during cooler overnight temperatures, according to local Civil Protection Agency commander Pedro Nunes.
But authorities said they expected heat in and winds to increase again in the afternoon, so all firefighting assets remained in place. Forests in the region are tinder-dry after weeks with little rain.
The Portuguese Civil Protection Agency said 321 vehicles and eight water-dumping aircraft were deployed to tackle the blaze, which has raced through thick woodlands.
Nunes told reporters that the fire, in its third day, has injured 32 people, one seriously.
Police said they were investigating what caused the fire amid suspicions it may have been started deliberately.
Temperatures were forecast to reach almost 40 C (104 F) Monday — prolonging a spell of blistering weather that is due to hit northern Europe late this week.
Recent weeks have also seen major wildfires in Spain, Greece and Germany. European Union authorities have warned that wildfires are “a growing menace” across the continent.
In May, forest fires also plagued Mexico and Russia.
Huge wildfires have long been a summer fixture in Portugal.
Residents of villages and hamlets in central Portugal have grown accustomed to the summer blazes, which destroy fruit trees, olive trees and crops in the fields.
In the hamlet of Colos, 50-year-old beekeeper Antonio Pires said he had lost half of his beehives in the current wildfire. Pires sells to mainly Portuguese and German clients, but also to Brazil and China.
“(I lost) 100 out of 230 (hives), so almost half,” Pires said. “A lot of damage.”
The country’s deadliest fire season came in 2017, when at least 106 people were killed.
The average annual area charred by wildfires in Portugal between 2010 and 2016 was just over 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres). That was more than in Spain, France, Italy or Greece — countries which are significantly bigger than Portugal.
Almost 11,500 firefighters are on standby this year, most of them volunteers. Volunteers are not uncommon in fire brigades in Europe, especially in Germany where more than 90% are volunteers.
Experts and authorities have identified several factors that make Portugal so particularly vulnerable to forest blazes. Addressing some of them is a long-term challenge.
The population of the Portuguese countryside has thinned as people have moved to cities in search of a better life. That means woodland has become neglected, especially as many of those left behind are elderly, and the forest debris is fuel for wildfires.
Large areas of central and northern Portugal are covered in dense, unbroken stretches of forest on hilly terrain. A lot of forest is pine and eucalyptus trees, both of which burn fiercely.
Environmentalists have urged the government to limit the area of eucalyptus, which burns like a torch. But it is a very valuable crop for Portugal’s important paper pulp industry, which last year posted sales worth 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion). The government says it is introducing restrictions gradually.
Experts say Portugal needs to develop a diversified patchwork of different tree species, some of them more fire-resistant and offering damper, shaded.
Climate change has become another challenge, bringing hotter, drier and longer summers. The peak fire season used to run from July 1 to Sept. 30. Now, it starts in June and ends in October.
After the 2017 deaths, the government introduced a raft of measures. They included using goats and bulldozers to clear woodland 10 meters (33 feet) either side of country roads. Property owners also have to clear a 50-meter (164-feet) radius around an isolated house, and 100 meters (328 feet) around a hamlet.
Emergency shelters and evacuation routes have been established at villages and hamlets. Their church bells aim to toll when a wildfire is approaching.
With 98% of blazes caused by human hand, either by accident or on purpose, officials have also been teaching people how to safely burn stubble and forest waste. Police, army and forest service patrols are also increased during the summer.