Malaysian court tells women charged in killing of North Korean to enter defense

Vietnamese defendant Doan Thi Huong, right, and Indonesian defendant Siti Aishah, second left, are escorted by Malaysian police in this October 24, 2017 photo. (AFP)
Updated 18 August 2018

Malaysian court tells women charged in killing of North Korean to enter defense

KUALA LUMPUR: A Malaysian court ruled on Thursday that the two women accused of assassinating Kim Jong Nam, the estranged brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, to “enter their defense,” saying that there was sufficient evidence for the trial to go ahead.

The ruling has brought Malaysia’s judicial system under the spotlight.

Closed-circuit television footage from a Malaysian airport showed Kim Jong Nam having his face smeared with a toxic nerve agent known as VX on February 13, 2017. The assassination was carried out in broad daylight inside the bustling airport. One of the women assassins was wearing an “LOL” shirt.

On Thursday High Court Judge Azmi Ariffin ordered Siti Aisyah, a 25-year old Indonesian, and Doan Thi Huong, a 28 year-old Vietnamese, being called upon to “enter their defense.” The ruling may set a stage for a lengthy trial, which could last for six months.

“It’s not unexpected that the judge decided to take this case to trial, and I expect the two accused women will have a hard time defending their actions. But the most frustrating thing is the real culprits — the North Korean government and its agents,” said Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director of Human Rights Watch.

Professor James Chin, Malaysia expert and director of the Asia Institute based in Australia’s Tasmania University, told Arab News that the trial itself may not be fair since all key witnesses to the murder are in North Korea.

The judge said it has sufficient evidence that there was a “well-planned conspiracy” between the two women and four North Korean suspects to kill Kim “systemically.” The North Korean suspects who allegedly masterminded the murder boarded the flight on the morning of the murder.

The judge did not rule out that this could be a “political assassination” but noted there was a lack of concrete evidence. If convicted, the two women who are the only suspects who are in custody, could face the death penalty.

“Most people recognize that the two women are probably scapegoats, but the fact remains that their actions killed a man. One hopes that the court will be fair, and that the judge will recognize that the real culprits were the North Koreans who got away while the Malaysian police were not paying attention,” said Robertson.

“The trial will probably be closely watched,” said Dr. Ian Chong, East Asia expert and associate professor of political science at the National University of Singapore. He told Arab News that this is a time for Malaysia to demonstrate the independence and professionalism of its judicial system and give people confidence in its procedures.

The trial is a litmus test for the newly formed Malaysian government, led by Pakatan Harapan (PH), which promised to uphold “the rule of law” in the country, given the high-profile trials surrounding strategic development company 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) expected in the near future.

North Korea has the reputation of being a rogue state with one of the worst human rights records in the world. Kim Jung Nam, the older sibling of the authoritarian North Korean leader, had been a vocal critic of his family’s dynastic rule, even criticizing Jong Un’s leadership qualities, in 2012.

With the Trump-Kim rapprochement at its height, Kim Jong Un’s brother’s bizarre death may have little impact on North Korea’s efforts to mend its relationship with the world through participation at South Korea’s Winter Olympics in February and the Trump-Kim Summit in May.

“I don’t think the trial will affect North Korea unless there is strong evidence demonstrating Pyongyang’s links to the murder,” said Dr. Chong.

Interpol picks South Korea’s Kim as president over Russian rival

Updated 2 min 2 sec ago

Interpol picks South Korea’s Kim as president over Russian rival

DUBAI: Interpol announced Wednesday that Kim Jong-yang of South Korea had been chosen as its new president, beating a Russian official whose candidacy had unnerved Western nations.
The US-backed Kim, acting president of the global police body, was picked at a meeting of delegates from member nations in Dubai to replace Meng Hongwei, who went missing in his native China in September.
Beijing later said Meng resigned after being charged with accepting bribes.
There had been growing calls within Western nations for Interpol to reject Russian candidate Alexander Prokopchuk — a Russian interior ministry official and current Interpol vice president — over fears Moscow could abuse the role to target political opponents.
On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threw his weight behind Kim, who will serve out Meng’s term until 2020.
“We encourage all nations and organizations that are part of Interpol and that respect the rule of law to choose a leader with integrity. We believe Mr. Kim will be just that,” Pompeo told reporters.
Critics have raised concerns over Russia’s previous applications for Interpol “Red Notices,” or international arrest warrants, to target those who have fallen foul of the Kremlin.
Interpol’s president chairs its General Assembly while day-to-day operations are handled by the organization’s Secretary general Juergen Stock.

In an open letter this week, a bipartisan group of US senators said choosing Prokopchuk would be like “putting a fox in charge of a henhouse.”
“Russia routinely abuses Interpol for the purpose of settling scores and harassing political opponents, dissidents and journalists,” they wrote.
Harriett Baldwin, a minister of state at the British foreign office, told parliament on Tuesday that London would support Kim’s bid.
Anti-Kremlin figures had also raised concerns, including Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader who has been repeatedly jailed by authorities.
“Our team has suffered from abuse of Interpol for political persecution by Russia,” Navalny wrote on Twitter. “I don’t think that a president from Russia will help to reduce such violations.”
US National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis echoed the endorsement for Kim.
“As recent events show, the Russian government abuses INTERPOL’s processes to harass its political opponents,” he said on Twitter.
The controversy also comes amid security concerns over accusations of Russian agents attempting to poison an ex-spy in Britain and trying to hack the network of the global chemical weapons watchdog.
Ukraine, deeply at odds with Moscow over its annexation of Crimea and support for separatists, threatened to pull out of Interpol if Prokopchuk prevailed. Lithuania also said it would consider withdrawing from the network.
Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the US senators’ letter as a “vivid example” of an attempt to interfere in the vote.
Moscow’s interior ministry denounced a “foreign media campaign aimed at discrediting Russia’s candidate.”
But two foes of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who have been targeted by international arrest warrants sought by Moscow, also said Tuesday they were launching a bid to get Russia suspended from Interpol for abusing the agency.
The legal challenge was announced by financier Bill Browder, named in multiple Interpol warrants, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky — a former oil baron who spent 10 years in a Russian jail and now lives in exile in London.
“The Interpol constitution has very specific rules which forbid countries who are serial abusers from using the system,” Browder told reporters.
Briefly arrested in Spain this year under a Moscow-issued Red Notice, Browder said the Russian candidacy was an attempt by Putin to “expand his criminal tentacles to every corner of the globe.”
He fought for — and in 2012 secured — US sanctions against Russian officials believed to be involved in the death of his tax consultant, Sergei Magnitsky.
Magnitsky died in jail in 2009 after accusing Russian officials of a $230-million tax fraud.
Russia has rejected the claims and this week announced it was opening a new probe into Browder on suspicion of running a “transnational criminal gang,” even suggesting he was behind Magnitsky’s death.
Russian prosecutors said he would be put on an international wanted list “in the near future.”
Multilingual Prokopchuk worked in tax enforcement before starting as a Russian representative at Interpol in 2006, according to the interior ministry.