March 20, 2018 / 10:26 AM / 4 months ago

Woman accused in Kim Jong Nam killing played prank on Vietnamese official, lawyer says

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - A woman accused of poisoning the North Korean leader’s half-brother played a prank on a Vietnamese government official in Hanoi less than two weeks before the sensational killing, her lawyer told a Malaysian court on Tuesday.

Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, who is on trial for the killing of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korea's leader, is escorted as she arrives at the Shah Alam High Court on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia January 22, 2018. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin

Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong is charged, along with an Indonesian woman, Siti Aisyah, with killing Kim Jong Nam by smearing his face with VX, a banned chemical weapon, at Kuala Lumpur airport on Feb. 13, 2017.

Defence lawyers say the women thought they were part of a prank reality show and did not know they were handling poison.

Hisyam Teh, Huong’s lawyer, screened a closed-circuit television video recorded at Hanoi’s international airport on Feb. 2, 2017, which showed her approaching a man from behind and putting her arms around his neck.

The man was a Vietnamese government official named Trinh Ngoc Linh, Teh told the court.

“(Linh) had given a statement to police saying that on that date, he had arrived in Hanoi from Singapore with his mother,” Teh said, while questioning Wan Azirul Nizam, the lead police investigator in the case.

Linh would travel to Malaysia to testify if the defence needed him, Teh told reporters during a break in the hearing.

Teh also screened two videos showing Huong acting as the victim of pranks played by a Vietnamese filmmaker, Nguyen Manh Quang.

Quang, in an affidavit submitted to the court, said he had hired Huong to act in the videos, recorded in 2016.

“These videos explain why the accused identified herself as an actress,” Teh said, citing Huong’s statement to police.

In the statement made available to reporters, Huong said she was tricked into acting for a prank show by a man named Mr. Y, later identified as Ri Ji Hyon, one of four North Koreans who fled Malaysia on the day of the killing.

“Mr. Y is a liar. He used me to do video,” she said.

Before the killing, Huong said, she played several pranks in Malaysia and Vietnam.

These often involved her approaching unsuspecting men and putting her hands on their faces or kissing them on the cheek. She would then apologise before running away, she said.

On one occasion, Ri applied “baby cream” on her hands and told her to put her hands on a man’s face from behind, she said.

He applied an oil-like substance on her hands on the day of the killing.

“I don’t feel anything on my hands, only sticky and oily,” she said in the statement, adding that she had not experienced any burning or pain.

Ri told her a new actress and actor would join them for the airport prank. He described the actor as a fat and bald man with a “black bag and jacket”, matching Kim’s description on the day of his death.

“I didn’t know that the actor already died until Feb. 16, 2017, when the police told me,” Huong said.

Defence lawyers argue the killing was politically motivated, with many key suspects linked to the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur, suggesting the women were mere pawns.

Kim had criticized his family’s dynastic rule of North Korea, and his brother Kim Jong Un had issued orders for his execution, some South Korean officials have said.

Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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