Malaysia frees Vietnamese woman accused of killing North Korean leader’s half-brother

FILE PHOTO: Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, who was a suspect in the murder case of North Korean leader's half brother Kim Jong Nam, leaves the Shah Alam High Court on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 14, 2019. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin FILE PHOTO: Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, who was a suspect in the murder case of North Korean leader's half brother Kim Jong Nam, leaves the Shah Alam High Court on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 14, 2019. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin

By Rozanna Latiff

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – A Vietnamese woman who spent more than two years in a Malaysian prison on suspicion of killing the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was freed on Friday, her lawyer said.

Doan Thi Huong, 30, was charged along with an Indonesian woman with poisoning Kim Jong Nam by smearing his face with liquid VX, a banned chemical weapon, at Kuala Lumpur airport in February 2017.

Malaysian prosecutors dropped a murder charge against Huong last month after she pleaded guilty to an alternate charge of causing harm. Huong will return to Vietnam later on Friday, her lawyer, Hisyam Teh, told Reuters.

In a handwritten letter, Huong thanked the governments of Malaysia and Vietnam, as well as those involved in her trial and imprisonment, for “all the support”.

“I’m very happy and thank you all a lot. I love you all,” Huong said in the letter shown by her lawyers at an airport press conference before her flight.

Huong’s whereabouts were not known, but Teh said immigration officials would escort her to the plane.

She will be accompanied by her lawyers and embassy officials on the flight to Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital, Teh said.

“The case has come to a complete end, as far as Doan is concerned,” he said, using Huong’s surname.

Huong’s co-accused, Siti Aisyah, was freed in March after prosecutors also dropped a murder charge against her.

South Korean and U.S. officials have said the North Korean regime had ordered the assassination of Kim Jong Nam, who had been critical of his family’s dynastic rule. Pyongyang has denied the allegation.

Defense lawyers have maintained the women were pawns in an assassination orchestrated by North Korean agents. The women said they thought they were part of a reality prank show and did not know they were poisoning Kim.

Four North Korean men were also charged but they left Malaysia hours after the murder and remain at large.

Malaysia was criticized for charging the two women with murder – which carries a mandatory death penalty in the Southeast Asian nation – when the key perpetrators were still being sought.

Huong’s father, Doan Van Thanh, said he and her brother would be in Hanoi to welcome her home.

“I am so happy now, my whole village is happy now,” Thanh told Reuters by telephone.

“We will hold a party on Sunday and anyone can come and join the party. We will slaughter some pigs for the party. My daughter particularly likes fried fish, so we will prepare that too,” he said.

(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Additional reporting by Khanh Vu in HANOI; Writing by Joe Brock and Joseph Sipalan; Editing by Paul Tait and Darren Schuettler)

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