KAJANG, Malaysia: The Vietnamese woman who was tried for the killing of the estranged half brother of North Korea’s leader was released Friday from a Malaysian prison and due to fly back to Hanoi later in the day, her lawyer and an embassy translator said.
Doan Thi Huong’s release likely closes the case, since four North Koreans named as co-conspirators in the 2017 slaying are not in custody. Malaysian officials never officially accused North Korea and made it clear they didn’t want the trial politicized.
Vietnamese embassy translator Maridam Yacfar told reporters at the prison that Doan Thi Huong looked “happy” but couldn’t give further details.
Huong’s lawyer, Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, said Huong went to an immigration office and will fly back to Hanoi later Friday.
Huong, 30, pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of causing injury last month after prosecutors dropped the murder charge against her. She was sentenced to 40 months in prison from the day of her arrest and was released early for good behavior.
Huong was the last suspect in custody after the Malaysian attorney general’s stunning decision in March to drop the murder case against her co-defendant, Indonesian Siti Aisyah, following high-level lobbying from Jakarta. Huong sought to be acquitted after Aisyah was freed, but prosecutors rejected her request. Aisyah returned home to Indonesia.
The two women were charged with colluding with the four North Koreans to murder Kim Jong Nam with VX nerve agent. The women smeared the substance on his face in the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Feb. 13, 2017, and have said they thought they were taking part in a harmless prank for a TV show.
The four North Koreans fled Malaysia the day Kim was killed.
The High Court judge last August had found there was enough evidence to infer that Aisyah, Huong and the four North Koreans engaged in a “well-planned conspiracy” to kill Kim and had called on the two women to present their defense.
Lawyers for the women have said that they were pawns in a political assassination with clear links to the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, and that the prosecution failed to show the women had any intention to kill. Intent to kill is crucial to a murder charge under Malaysian law.
Hisyam said Huong was very joyful when he met her at the prison on Thursday.
“She was smiling from ear to ear. She is looking forward to return home to meet her family and friends,” he told The Associated Press.
After her sentencing last month, Huong told reporters at the court room that she wants to “sing and act” when she returns to Vietnam.
Kim Jong Nam was the eldest son in the current generation of North Korea’s ruling family. He had been living abroad for years but could have been seen as a threat to Kim Jong Un’s rule.
A Vietnamese woman who spent more than two years in a Malaysian prison on suspicion of killing the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was freed on Friday, her lawyer said.
Doan Thi Huong, 30, was charged along with an Indonesian woman with poisoning Kim Jong Nam by smearing his face with liquid VX, a banned chemical weapon, at Kuala Lumpur airport in February 2017.
Malaysian prosecutors dropped a murder charge against Huong last month after she pleaded guilty to an alternate charge of causing harm. Huong will return to Vietnam later on Friday, her lawyer, Hisyam Teh, told Reuters.
Huong was taken into immigration custody immediately after her release from prison and will remain there before boarding a flight to Hanoi, the Vietnamese capital.
Teh said his client may speak at a brief news conference before boarding her flight.
“In the event she is unable to talk to media I will read out a statement from her,” he said.
Huong’s co-accused, Siti Aisyah, was freed in March after prosecutors also dropped a murder charge against her.
South Korean and US officials have said the North Korean regime had ordered the assassination of Kim Jong Nam, who had been critical of his family’s dynastic rule. Pyongyang has denied the allegation.
Defense lawyers have maintained the women were pawns in an assassination orchestrated by North Korean agents. The women said they thought they were part of a reality prank show and did not know they were poisoning Kim.
Four North Korean men were also charged but they left Malaysia hours after the murder and remain at large.
Malaysia came under criticism for charging the two women with murder — which carries a mandatory death penalty in the Southeast Asian country — when the key perpetrators were still being sought. (Reporting by Rozanna Latiff Writing by Joe Brock and Joseph Sipalan Editing by Paul Tait)