Kim Jong-nam murder suspect explains how North Koreans recruited her for ‘assassination disguised as prank TV show’
Suspect Doan Thi Huong’s friend had introduced her to a ‘Korean man’ wanting to make a ‘funny video’ - that turned out to be an assassination attempt, a court has heard
A woman charged with the murder of Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half-brother of Kim Jong-un, was tricked into committing the assassination by North Korean agents pretending they were in a prank TV show, a court heard Wednesday.
Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, the defence lawyer for Doan Thi Huong, 29, presented a statement given by Nguyen Bich Thuy, a bar owner and Huong’s friend, to the Vietnamese police on March 1, 2017, two weeks after Kim Jong-nam was murdered at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
In the statement, Thuy, 32, detailed how Huong was recruited by Ri Ji-hyon, one of four North Koreans wanted by the Malaysian authorities.
Huong has been charged at the Shah Alam High Court together with Siti Aisyah, 26, from Indonesia, and the four North Koreans still at large with killing Kim Jong-nam on February 13, 2017.
Huong and Aisyah were caught on airport security cameras wiping his face with what is believed to be the deadly nerve agent VX.
The four North Koreans – Ri Ji-hyon, Ri Jae-nam, Hong Song-hac and O Jong-gil – were also seen at the airport that day. They fled the country hours after the murder.
During cross examination of the chief police investigator Wan Azirul Nizam, Hisyam produced an affidavit Thuy had made last October that also contained her police statement.
In her statement, Thuy said, “I realised that Huong might be made full use of by ‘Li’ to assassinate a person in Malaysia.”
“Li” was the name that Ri Ji -hyon introduced himself as to Thuy.
“I and all friends of Huong never believe that Huong could kill a person and she even does not have the courage to do so,” she added.
Thuy said she and Huong used to work together as waitresses at the Seventeen Bar in Hanoi from 2014 to May 2016. Though not very close, she described Huong as “sociable and easy going” who liked travelling and acting.
On December 27, 2016, Ri Ji-hyon came to the Hay Bar in Hanoi that was run by Thuy and her husband. Ri claimed he had a Korean father and Vietnamese mother and that he was married but divorced with no children.
He offered Thuy a job as an actress but Thuy refused because she had to take care of her young son. Then Ri asked her to introduce him to one of her friends. Thuy remembered Huong loved acting and she contacted her.
When Huong came by the bar to meet Ri Ji-hyon, Thuy heard him telling Huong that his team was making prank videos at the airport and she was required to “dress nicely, pass by another person and pour a cup of liquid on his/her head.”
In Huong’s statement to the Malaysian police on February 18, 2017, three days after her arrest, she listed her occupation as “actress.”
Huong confirmed meeting Ri Ji-hyon on the same day she received a call from Thuy about a “Korean man” wanting to make a “funny video.”
In Huong’s statement, which was tendered in court on Wednesday as evidence after Azirul confirmed it, she said Ri Ji-hyon spoke “very good” Vietnamese.
A week after that first meeting, she did her first prank opposite Big Theatre in Hanoi.
Afterward, Huong and Ri Ji-hyon were met by Ri Jae-nam, whom the former claimed was his boss.
During his cross examination, lead investigator Azirul came under fire from Huong’s lawyer after he admitted not seeking out Thuy even though Huong mentioned her in her statement.
He agreed that Thuy would have been an important witness because she could confirm the veracity of Huong’s statement to the police.
Azirul testified that he did not take any measures to interrogate her himself or seek the help of the Vietnamese police.
“I put it to you that you are biased, not independent, not interested in the truth and your investigation only focused on your interpretation of the CCTV videos shown in court,” Hisyam said.
He told reporters outside court that Thuy’s police statement came about because the Vietnamese police took their own initiative to investigate after Kim Jong-nam’s murder made headlines around the world.
The hearing will resume on Thursday.