Court told woman in Kim Jong Nam killing was paid for pranks

Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, center, is escorted by police as she arrives for court hearing at Shah Alam court house in Shah Alam, Malaysia, Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. Doan and Siti Aisyah of Indonesia have pleaded not guilty to killing Kim Jong Nam on Feb. 13, 2017 at a crowded Kuala Lumpur airport terminal. They are accused of wiping VX on Kim's face in an assassination widely thought to have been orchestrated by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. (AP Photo/Sadiq Asyraf)

SHAH ALAM, Malaysia — An Indonesian woman accused of killing the estranged half brother of North Korea's leader was paid for acting in prank shows at the airport, hotels and shopping malls just weeks earlier, a defense lawyer told the court Friday.

Siti Aisyah is on trial with Doan Thi Huong from Vietnam on the charge of murdering Kim Jong Nam by smearing his face with the banned VX nerve agent at the Kuala Lumpur airport on Feb. 13 last year. The two are the only suspects in custody, though prosecutors have said four North Koreans who fled the country were also involved.

The court heard last week that Aisyah was recruited on Jan. 5 last year to act in what she thought was a Japanese video prank show by Ri Ji U, a North Korean posing as a Japanese man named James. She played her first pranks on that day at a shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur and was paid 400 ringgit ($102).

Aisyah's lawyer, Gooi Soon Seng, told the court Friday that Aisyah subsequently played pranks over the next few days from Jan. 6-9 as well as on Jan. 15, and was paid 650 ringgit ($165) a day for her work and taxi fare. The pranks were carried out at the Kuala Lumpur airport as well as two hotels and two shopping malls in the city, Gooi said during cross examination of chief police investigator Wan Azirul Nizam Che Wan Aziz.

Wan Azirul agreed with Gooi that Aisyah had also told police during questioning that James gave her 1,500 ringgit ($381) on Jan. 16 to purchase a flight ticket to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. He also agreed that Siti referred to herself as "Alice" in her mobile text messages with James.

But he was evasive at many points during questioning, saying he was unsure or couldn't remember details. Wan Azirul also said he didn't investigate the photos and videos that Aisyah took of James on her mobile phone as well as the Phnom Penh flight details — items which the Indonesian had downloaded on her Facebook page.

Gooi told reporters later that Aisyah's mobile text messages and calls made to James showed it was consistent with the women's contention that they were duped by suspected North Korean agents into believing they were playing harmless pranks for a hidden TV show and didn't know they were poisoning Kim.

"People may lie but circumstances will not lie. We are telling the court that this girl was tricked into playing pranks and persuaded to go to the airport on Feb. 13. It's up to the prosecution to prove murder," he said.

Gooi also slammed Wan Azirul for his "lopsided investigation" into the case and said the policeman was being uncooperative in court and appeared reluctant to give details in his testimony.

"A lot of damage has been done and defense has been compromised over time," he said.

The two women face the death penalty if convicted, but not if they lacked intent to kill. Prosecutors contend the women knew they were handling poison.

Kim, the eldest son in the family that has ruled North Korea since its founding, had been living abroad for years after falling out of favor. It is thought he could have been seen as a threat to the rule of his half brother, Kim Jong Un.

Malaysian officials have never officially accused North Korea of involvement in Kim's death and have made it clear they don't want the trial politicized.

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