Vietnamese defendant in Kim Jong Nam trial may walk free next month after plea deal

Nicola Smith
Doan Thi Huong said she was happy about her imminent release from a Malaysian jail - AP

A Vietnamese woman accused of assassinating Kim Jong-un’s half-brother pled guilty to a lesser charge on Monday and may now be freed in early May. 

Doan Thi Huong, 29, had been facing the death penalty after being charged with the murder of Kim Jong Nam, 45, who died in February 2017 after the Vietnamese woman and an accomplice allegedly smeared toxic VX agent on his face at Kuala Lumpur airport. 

Her high-profile trial in a Malaysian court ended abruptly on Monday after prosecutors offered to reduce the murder charge to a lesser one of “causing hurt by a dangerous weapon.”

Ms Doan accepted the plea deal and was sentenced to just over three years in prison, with the jail term backdated to her arrest in 2017. 

“It is my view that the length of imprisonment would serve the interest of justice,” said Judge Azmi Ariffin, as he announced the verdict. He told Ms Doan that she was “very very lucky” and he wished her “all the best.”

The defendant stood up in the dock and thanked the judge, prosecutors and the Malaysian and Vietnamese governments. 

As she left the courtroom, she told reporters she was happy and hoped to be a singer and actress when she returned to Vietnam. 

Kim Jong Nam was murdered at Kuala Lumpur's international airport in 2017 Credit: Shizuo Kambayashi/AP

Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, her lawyer, said she was expected to be freed by the first week of May, after a one third reduction in her sentence for good behaviour. 

Ms Doan had been the sole remaining suspect on trial for the painful, public death of Kim whose body seized up and organs shut down within minutes of inhaling the VX agent in the departures hall of the busy international airport. 

Siti Aisyah, an alleged Indonesian accomplice, was released last month without charge after high level lobbying from her government. 

Vietnam also publicly appealed to the Malaysian authorities for the fair treatment and acquittal of Ms Doan who her lawyers said had been left “traumatised” that she had been left to face charges alone. 

The two women, from impoverished backgrounds and with aspirations in showbusiness, claimed that they had been duped into believing they were actors in a reality TV prank show and had no intention to murder Kim. 

Their legal teams argued that the women had been cynically used as pawns in an audacious Cold War-style assassination of a potential future challenger to Kim Jong-un, who maintains an iron grip on power in reclusive North Korea. 

Four North Korean suspects in the murder remain at large, although Pyongyang has always denied any state involvement in the crime. 

Le Quy Qunyh, the Vietnamese ambassador to Malaysia, said he was “very happy” that Ms Doan had been released and thanked the Vietnamese and Malaysian governments. 

“But I have to say that Doan Thi Huong is a victim in this case, like the Indonesian citizen, Siti Aisyah,” he added.