KUALA LUMPUR: A Vietnamese woman accused of assassinating the North Korean leader’s half-brother was freed from prison on Friday (May 3), ending legal proceedings stemming from the killing despite criticism that the real culprits never faced justice.
Doan Thi Huong was “released at about 7.20am” from a prison outside Kuala Lumpur, her lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik told AFP. Journalists waiting outside the jail saw a van and a car with tinted windows race past.
After a lengthy trial, Huong pleaded guilty last month to a lesser charge of “causing injury” over the 2017 assassination of Kim, making her the only person convicted for a murder that made headlines around the world.
Weeks earlier, Indonesian Siti Aisyah – the only other person to face trial over the killing carried out with a banned nerve agent at Kuala Lumpur airport – was released and flew home after her murder charge was withdrawn.
READ: Timeline of events in the Kim Jong Nam assassination
The pair always denied having committed murder, arguing that they were pawns in a plan hatched by North Korean agents who fled Malaysia after the killing.
South Korea accused Pyongyang of plotting the assassination.
Huong, who received a jail term of several years which was cut due to sentence remissions, is expected to fly home in the evening.
“She’s very happy,” her lawyer Hisyam told AFP. “She’s definitely looking forward to going home.”
While there is relief for the women – who said they believed they were taking part in a TV show prank – those behind the plot are unlikely to ever face justice.
“The assassins have not been brought to justice,” said Hisyam, adding the women’s legal teams consistently argued their North Korean handlers were the real murderers.
The pair were arrested after they were captured on airport CCTV cameras walking up behind Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of Kim Jong Un, as he waited for a flight, and one was seen clasping her hands over his face.
Kim, heir apparent to the North’s leadership until he was exiled from his homeland, died in agony shortly after, his face smeared with poison.
READ: ‘My life is in danger,’ North Korea leader’s half-brother quoted as saying months before poisoning
READ: Kim Jong Nam murder not a prank: Prosecutors
Aisyah and Huong, a 30-year-old former hair salon worker, were put on trial for murder in October 2017 and faced death by hanging if convicted.
The defence stage of the case was due to start in March, but in a shock move, prosecutors announced they were withdrawing the murder charge against Aisyah, 27, and she flew back to Jakarta.
Her release followed intense diplomatic pressure from Indonesia, including from President Joko Widodo.
Vietnam then stepped up pressure for Huong’s murder charge to be dropped. Their initial request was refused, but at the start of April prosecutors offered her a reduced charge, paving the way for her release.
The assassination sparked a furious row between North Korea and Malaysia, previously one of nuclear-armed Pyongyang’s few allies, and prompted both countries to expel each other’s ambassadors.
Ties have improved in recent times, however, with Malaysia saying it plans to re-open its embassy in Pyongyang. which was closed shortly after the murder.