KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - A Malaysian court will decide on Thursday whether to continue hearing a case against two women charged with the murder of the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, or acquit them.
Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Doan Thi Huong, a Vietnamese, could face the death penalty on charges of murdering Kim Jong Nam by smearing his face with VX, a nerve agent banned by the United Nations, at a Kuala Lumpur airport on Feb. 13 last year.
The women, both in their 20s, are the only suspects in custody and have pleaded not guilty, saying they thought they were involved in a prank for a reality TV show. Four North Koreans also charged in the killing have fled Malaysia.
The prosecution made closing arguments in June at a court on the outskirts of the Malaysian capital, based on testimony from 34 witnesses. Trial judge Azmi Ariffin set Thursday to rule on whether to acquit the women or ask them to enter their defence.
"My gut is telling me the defence will be called," said the prosecutor Wan Shaharuddin Wan Ladin.
"The most key thing is they had VX on them and VX was shown to have killed Kim Jong Nam. So they have to explain the connection there."
Expert witnesses testified that traces of VX were found on the clothing of both women. Video recordings played in court showed them meeting the four fugitives at the airport before the attack. They also show Huong appearing to smear something on Kim Jong Nam's face.
If the judge decides the evidence is insufficient, the case will be dismissed and both women acquitted and deported.
Defence lawyers say the killing was politically motivated, with many key suspects linked to the North Korean embassy in the Malaysian capital, suggesting the women were simply pawns.
Siti Aisyah's lawyer Gooi Soon Seng has called the evidence against his client "flimsy and circumstantial" as it relied only on the security footage and the traces of VX on her.
There was no clear footage of Siti Aisyah smearing Kim's face. The recordings show only a blurry image of someone the prosecution identified as Siti Aisyah hurrying from the scene.
Huong's lawyer, Hisyam Teh, said his client's conduct after the incident was that of an innocent person, citing CCTV recordings showing her return to the crime scene two days later, when she was arrested.
"We are very confident that tomorrow justice will be served," Hisyam told Reuters, adding that Huong had been consistent and cooperative in her police statements.
"The judge cannot ignore the evidence before him."
In Vietnam, Huong's father, Doan Van Thanh, said he hoped the court would be fair.
"She's an innocent girl and we believe the court will find the same," he told Reuters by telephone from his home in the northern province of Nam Dinh.
"She was tricked, and we all know that."
Pyongyang has denied accusations by South Korean and U.S. officials that Kim Jong Un’s regime was behind the killing.
(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff in KUALA LUMPUR and Khanh Vu in HANOI; Writing by Praveen Menon; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)