Women plead not guilty in Kim Jong-nam murder trial

Doan Thi Huong (right) and Siti Aisyah (centre) are accused of murdering Kim Jong-nam. Credit: AP

The two women charged with murdering the half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un have both pleaded not guilty at the start of their trial in Malaysia.

Doan Thi Huong from Vietnam and Indonesian Siti Aisyah are suspected of smearing Kim Jong-nam's face with the deadly toxin VX nerve agent at a crowded airport terminal in Kuala Lumpur.

Shortly after the attack on February 13, Mr Kim collapsed and died.

However, both women have said they thought they were playing a harmless prank for a hidden-camera show, with Aisyah saying she was paid £73 to do it.

Malaysian prosecutors have said both women would face a mandatory death sentence if convicted.

VX is so toxic that even one touch would be enough to kill, an expert told ITV News.

Defence lawyers previously said they fear the two women will become scapegoats because other people who are believed to have knowledge of the case have fled Malaysia.

Police in the country said four North Korean suspects fled Malaysia on the day of the killing.

Both the Indonesian and Vietnamese governments have hired lawyers to defend the women.

The entrance to the court is cordoned off for the start of the trial. Credit: AP

According to Aisyah's lawyer, Gooi Soon Seng, the 25-year-old did not know she had poison on her hand when she smeared Mr Kim's face.

Instead she will argue that she was the victim of an elaborate trick.

Her defence is that she was in a pub in Kuala Lumpur in early January when she was recruited by a North Korean man to star in what he said were video prank shows.

Over the course of several days, the North Korean, who went by the name of James, had Aisyah go out to shopping centres, hotels and airports and rub oil or pepper sauce on strangers, which he would film on his phone, the lawyer said.

Aisyah was paid £75-£150 for each prank and hoped the income would allow her to stop working as an escort, her lawyer said.

Kim Jong-un is reported to have never met his half-brother. Credit: AP

In late January, Aisyah flew to Cambodia, where James introduced her to a man called Chang, who said he was the producer of video prank shows for the Chinese market, the lawyer said.

Back in Malaysia, Chang asked Aisyah to do several more pranks at the Kuala Lumpur airport a few days before Mr Kim was attacked.

At the airport on the day of Mr Kim's death, Chang pointed him out to Aisyah as the next target and put the poison on her hand, the lawyer said.

Police say neither Chang nor James were who they say they were.

Instead police believe Chang was actually Hong Song Hac, one of four North Korean suspects who left Malaysia on the day of the killing, while James was Ri Ji U, one of another three North Koreans who hid inside their country's embassy in Kuala Lumpur to avoid questioning.

The three North Koreans who had been hiding in the embassy were later allowed to fly home in exchange for nine Malaysians allowed to leave Pyongyang in a deal easing the countries' diplomatic tensions.

Gooi said James was key to Aisyah's defence and that his absence could weaken her case.

Little is known about 29-year-old Huong.

Police cars arrive at court to drop the suspects off. Credit: AP

Although Malaysia has never directly accused North Korea of carrying out the attack, speculation is rampant that Pyongyang orchestrated the hit on a long-exiled member of its ruling family.

It is reported that Kim Jong-un had never met his half-brother.

Although Mr Kim, who was estranged from his family, was not an obvious political threat, he may have been seen as a potential rival in the country's dynastic dictatorship.

North Korea has denounced the speculation and has not even acknowledged that the dead man was Kim Jong-nam.

The secretive state has suggested the victim died of a heart attack and accused Malaysia of working with South Korea and other "hostile forces" in blaming Pyongyang.

The trial is expected to last for two months.