Malaysian prosecutors have dropped a murder charge against a Vietnamese woman accused of killing the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in 2017, sentencing her, instead, to over three years in jail for a lesser charge.
Doan Thi Huong pleaded guilty to the charge of “causing hurt” to Kim Jong-nam, 45, by smearing lethal VX nerve agent on his face at the Kuala Lumpur airport in February 2017, judicial officials and her lawyers said Monday.
The 30-year-old woman – who has already served two years behind bars since 2017 -- was sentenced to three years and four months in jail from her arrest in February 2017. Her lawyers, however, said she would walk free “in the first week of May” with usual sentence reductions under Malaysian law.
Her Indonesian co-defendant, Siti Aisyah, 26, was similarly acquitted of her murder charge and freed by Malaysian authorities last month.
In the course of their trial last year, CCTV footage from the incident showed the two women rushing into separate bathrooms shortly after smearing the poison on the victim’s face, and then leaving the airport.
Prosecutors initially believed the two suspects were professional assassins hired by the North Korean government.
The pair’s lawyers, however, rejected the accusation, claiming four North Korean agents had masterminded the hit, providing the young women with the toxic nerve agent used to kill the victim.
The two would have faced a mandatory death penalty if found guilty of murder.
The women also denied the murder allegations, saying they had been tricked by the North Korean agents into believing that their act was simply a gig for a TV show.
The incident triggered a dispute between Malaysia and North Korea and the two countries withdrew their ambassadors; however, Pyongyang was never officially accused by Kuala Lumpur of having ordered the killing.
Before his assassination, the brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had fled his homeland and lived in exile in Macau. He had been critical of his family’s dynastic rule of the North.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, Huong said, “I’m happy. This is a fair sentence.”
“I thank the Malaysian government and the Vietnamese government,” she added.
The reduced charge was handed down after the Vietnamese embassy filed representations with Malaysia over her case, according to the prosecutors.