KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – A Malaysian judge on Monday sentenced a Vietnamese woman accused of killing the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to more than three years in prison for causing harm, after prosecutors dropped a murder charge against her.
FILE PHOTO – Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, who was a suspect in the murder case of North Korean leader’s half brother Kim Jong Nam, leaves the Shah Alam High Court on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 14, 2019. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin
Doan Thi Huong, who has already served two years in jail, could be released as early as next month in accordance with Malaysian law, her lawyers said.
Huong, 30, and an Indonesian woman, Siti Aisyah, were charged with killing Kim Jong Nam by smearing his face with VX poison, a lethal chemical weapon, at Kuala Lumpur’s main airport in February 2017.
Prosecutors on Monday offered Huong an alternative charge of ‘causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means’. The reduced charge was offered after receiving representations from the Vietnamese embassy and the woman’s lawyers, they said.
Huong pleaded guilty to the alternative charge, which carries a jail term of up to ten years, a financial penalty or whipping. She would have faced a mandatory death penalty if found guilty of murder.
Judge Azmi Ariffin sentenced Huong to three years and four months in prison for the reduced charged of causing harm.
The judge told Huong she was “a very, very lucky person indeed” that the prosecutors offered her the alternative charge.
Wearing a red baju kurung, a traditional Malay dress, with a headscarf, Huong stood and nodded as the judge delivered the sentencing.
Vietnamese officials in court broke into applause after the ruling.
Prosecutors sprung a surprise last month by dropping the murder charge against Siti Aisyah. They later declined to do the same for Huong without giving a reason for the decision and despite appeals from Vietnam’s government.
Four North Korean men have also been charged, but they left Malaysia hours after the murder and remain at large.
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.
Kim Jong Nam was living in exile in Macau before the killing, having fled his homeland after his half-brother Kim Jong Un became North Korea’s leader in 2011 following their father’s death.
South Korean and American 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.
Reporting by Rozanna Latiff, Writing by A. Ananthalakshmi; editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Darren Schuettler