Defence lawyers slam Malaysian police over Kim murder probe

by M JEGATHESAN

Shah Alam (Malaysia) (AFP) - The Malaysian police's investigation into the murder of the North Korean leader's estranged half-brother was "shoddy" and could result in an unfair trial, a court heard Wednesday.

Defence lawyers for two young women -- Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong -- charged with the Cold War-style killing of Kim Jong-Nam sought to discredit the manner in which the police conducted their probe.

Kim, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was poisoned at Kuala Lumpur's international airport in February last year while he was about the take a flight to Macau.

The women are on trial for allegedly smearing the banned nerve agent VX on the face of Kim, who died in agony minutes later. Kim had been living in exile since a family fallout.

Defence lawyers have argued that the women were recruited to take part in what they thought were prank TV shows but were instead tricked into becoming inadvertent assassins, in an elaborate plot by a group of North Korean agents.

The brazen daylight killing unleashed diplomatic shockwaves and widespread condemnation of North Korea.

Gooi Soon Seng, Aisyah's lawyer, told the court that police failed to investigate certain evidence and denied him access to his client during her initial 14-day detention.

He was questioning the case's chief investigating officer Wan Azirul Nizam Che Wan Aziz on the 32nd day of the trial.

Gooi at Wednesday's hearing criticised the officer for showing the court only bits of closed-circuit television footage related to the killing, which did not paint an accurate picture of what happened.

"I put it to you that your failure to copy all the footages from the CCTV server... had compromised the defence of Siti (Aisyah)," Gooi told Wan Azirul, who is being presented as a prosecution witness.

He also pointed out that video footage in the aftermath of the killing showed his client adjusting her sunglasses after the attack on Kim, contrary to a police report which said she was walking fast with her hands far apart.

This was important because if she had smeared VX on Kim's face using her hands, she would have also poisoned herself when when she touched her glasses, according to Gooi.

Aisyah's jeans and glasses were not sent for laboratory tests and the chemistry department tests showed that her fingernail cuttings, nail swabs and blood had no traces of VX, Gooi told the court.

"The failure to investigate certain evidence and not to allow lawyers access to Aisyah during her initial 14-day police detention have resulted in a lopsided and shoddy investigation," Gooi told AFP after the morning session.

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The Vietnamese woman's lawyer, Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, in the afternoon also flagged lapses by police when he questioned the investigating officer for the first time in the trial.

Hisyam told the court the officer failed to interview Nguyen Bich Thuy, a key witness from Vietnam who said she was the one who introduced the suspect Huong to a Korean man in Hanoi.

The man -- believed to be a North Korean agent -- was looking for actresses to play in short, funny videos just weeks before the assassination.

Thuy's testimony would have reinforced the defence's argument that Huong was in Malaysia thinking she was taking part in a prank show, the lawyer said.

"Because you as the investigating officer failed to question Nguyen Bich Thuy, you have prejudiced the second accused," Hisyam told the court.

"I put to you that you are a biased officer and not independent."

Hisyam said her client's first practice for the prank -- with the Korean watching from the sidelines -- was outside a theatre in Hanoi where she was supposed to say "hi" to a man the Korean picked and give him a kiss on the cheek.