Two women accused of fatally poisoning the estranged half brother of North Korea's ruler pleaded not guilty as their trial began Monday in Malaysia's High Court, nearly eight months after the brazen airport assassination that sparked a diplomatic standoff.
Siti Aisyah of Indonesia and Doan Thi Huong of Vietnam are suspected of smearing Kim Jong Nam's face with the banned VX nerve agent on Feb. 13 at a crowded airport terminal in Kuala Lumpur, killing him within about 20 minutes. The women say they thought they were playing a harmless prank for a hidden-camera show.
After asking for the charges to be read in their native languages, the women shook their heads when asked if they were guilty.
The two women are the only suspects in custody in a killing that South Korea's spy agency said was part of a five-year plot by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to kill a brother he reportedly never met. Police say several North Koreans suspected of involvement left the country on the day of the attack.
Others who holed up inside North Korea's embassy were allowed to leave in a deal with Pyongyang to ease tensions, despite Malaysia's anger at the public use of a chemical weapon on its territory.
Lawyers for two women, who face the death penalty if convicted, asked the court to compel prosecutors to identify four people still at large mentioned in the charge sheet as having a common intention to kill Kim.
"A fair trial must include the right to know," Gooi Soon Seng, Aisyah's lawyer, told the court. "The charge must be clear, not ambiguous."
Prosecutors will now start to call their witnesses, with the first few likely to be medical experts to establish the cause of death. The trial is expected to last for about two months, after which the judge will decide if there is a strong case for the women to have to mount their defense, said Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, Huong's lawyer.
Kim, who was 45 or 46, was the eldest son of the family that has ruled North Korea since its founding, yet he reportedly fell out of favor in 2001 when he was caught trying to enter Japan on a false passport, saying he wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland.
He had been living abroad for years and at the time of his death was traveling on a North Korean diplomatic passport under the name "Kim Chol."
North Korea has a long history of ordering killings of people it views as threats to its regime, though Kim was not thought to be seeking influence over his younger brother. He had, however, spoken out publicly against his family's dynastic control of the reclusive, nuclear-armed nation.