Women accused of murdering North Korea leader Kim Jong Un's half brother to plead not guilty

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Two women accused of killing the estranged half-brother of North Korea's leader at the Kuala Lumpur international airport are expected to plead not guilty when their trial begins at a Malaysian court on Monday.

Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25, and Doan Thi Huong, 28, from Vietnam, are charged with murdering Kim Jong Nam at the airport on Feb. 13 by smearing his face with VX, a chemical the United Nations describes as a weapon of mass destruction.

The pair, however, have told their lawyers they did not know they were participating in a deadly attack and believed they were carrying out a prank for a reality TV show. They face the death penalty if convicted.

"They (the women) will maintain their innocence," Hisyam Teh, Huong's lawyer, told Reuters.

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Two women accused of murdering Kim Jong Nam
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Two women accused of murdering Kim Jong Nam

Kim Jong Nam arrives at Beijing airport in Beijing, China, in this photo taken by Kyodo February 11, 2007.

(Kyodo/via REUTERS)

This combo shows a file photo (L) taken on May 4, 2001 of a man believed to be Kim Jong-Nam, son of the late-North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, getting off a bus to board an All Nippon Airways plane at Narita airport near Tokyo and a file photo (R) of his half-brother, current North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, on a balcony of the Grand People's Study House following a mass parade in Pyongyang on May 10, 2016. The half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, who has been murdered in Malaysia, pleaded for his life after a failed assassination bid in 2012, lawmakers briefed by South Korea's spy chief said on February 15, 2017. Jong-Nam, the eldest son of the late former leader Kim Jong-Il, was once seen as heir apparent but fell out of favor following an embarrassing botched bid in 2001 to enter Japan on a forged passport and visit Disneyland.

(TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA,ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)

Indonesian Siti Aisyah arrives at a court in the suburbs of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in this photo taken by Kyodo on March 1, 2017. Malaysia on Wednesday charged Aisyah and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong with the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half brother of North Korea's leader. Mandatory credit. Kyodo/via REUTERS. ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. MANDATORY CREDIT. JAPAN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN JAPAN.
Indonesian Siti Aisyah, who is charged for the murder of Kim Jong Nam, is escorted by police as she leaves a Sepang court in Malaysia April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Gooi Soon Seng, the lawyer for Indonesian national Siti Aisyah, 25, speaks to journalists after a pre-trial procedure for the assassination of Kim Jong-Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un outside the Kajang Prison Complex in Kajang on June 16, 2017. Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25, and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, 28, have been charged with the murder of Kim Jong-Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in February. / AFP PHOTO / MOHD RASFAN (Photo credit should read MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Vietnamese national Doan Thi Huong (C) is escorted by Malaysian police after a court appearance with Indonesian national Siti Aisyah (not pictured) at the magistrates' court in Sepang on April 13, 2017, for their alleged role in the assassination of Kim Jong-Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. Kim Jong-Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un was assassinated in Malaysia on February 14. / AFP PHOTO / MOHD RASFAN (Photo credit should read MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Vietnamese national Doan Thi Huong (C) is escorted by Malaysian police after a court appearance with Indonesian national Siti Aisyah (not pictured) at the magistrates' court in Sepang on April 13, 2017, for their alleged role in the assassination of Kim Jong-Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. Kim Jong-Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un was assassinated in Malaysia on February 14. / AFP PHOTO / MANAN VATSYAYANA (Photo credit should read MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images)

A man (R) believed to be North Korean heir-apparent Kim Jong Nam, is escorted by police as he boards a plane upon his deportation from Japan at Tokyo's Narita international airport in Narita, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo May 4, 2001. 

(Kyodo/via REUTERS)

A man watches a television showing news reports of Kim Jong-Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, in Seoul on February 14, 2017. Kim Jong-Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has been assassinated in Malaysia, South Korean media reported on February 14.

(JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)

In a picture taken on June 4, 2010 Kim Jong-Nam, the eldest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, waves after an interview with South Korean media representatives in Macau. Kim Jong-Nam was in the limelight with Seoul's JoongAng Ilbo newspaper carrying a snatched interview with him at a hotel in Macau. Jong-Nam declined knowledge of the warship incident, it reported, and said his father is 'doing well'. North Korean Leader Leader Kim Jong-Il on June 7 attended a rare second annual session of parliament at which Kim's brother-in-law was promoted and the country's prime minister was sacked, state media reported.

(JoongAng Sunday/AFP/Getty Images)

This photo taken on February 11, 2007 shows a man believed to be then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il's eldest son, Kim Jong-Nam (C), walking amongst journalists upon his arrival at Beijing's international airport. The half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, who has been murdered in Malaysia, pleaded for his life after a failed assassination bid in 2012, lawmakers briefed by South Korea's spy chief said on February 15, 2017.

(JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images)

BEIJING, CHINA: A man believed to be the eldest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, Kim Jong-Nam, answers Japanese reporters' questions at the Beijing International airport, 25 September 2004.

(JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images)

A man believed to be North Korean heir-apparent Kim Jong-nam emerges from a bus as he is escorted by Japanese authorities upon his deportation from Japan at Tokyo's Narita international airport May 4, 2001. Believed to be Kim Jong-nam, eldest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, the man entered Japan with a forged passport on Tuesday, but was deported to China on Friday.

(Eriko Sugita / Reuters)

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Monday's much-anticipated trial is expected to run until Nov. 30 at the Shah Alam High Court on the outskirts of the Malaysian capital.

Lead prosecutor Muhamad Iskandar Ahmad declined to comment on details of the case, but said between 30 and 40 witnesses, including 10 experts, would be called to testify.

The prosecution is expected to call expert witnesses such as pathologists and chemists early on, Hisyam said.

SEE MORE: Coroner speaks out on cause of death of U.S. student Otto Warmbier held in North Korea

He declined to comment on the defense's strategy, but said Huong was in good hands.

"She (Huong) has a good defense and we have the evidence to support it," he said, without elaborating.

'FOUR SUSPECTS SOUGHT'

South Korean and U.S. officials have said that Kim Jong Un's regime was behind the murder.

Kim Jong Nam, who was living in exile in Macau, had criticized his family's dynastic rule of North Korea and his brother had issued a standing order for his execution, according to some South Korean lawmakers.

Four other people, who have not been apprehended or named, have been charged along with Siti Aisyah and Huong. Four North Koreans, who police named as suspects in the case, left Kuala Lumpur for Pyongyang on the day of the killing.

RELATED: Everything you didn't know about the North Korean leader

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Everything you didn't know about Kim Jong Un
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Everything you didn't know about Kim Jong Un

1. While Kim Jong Un's birthday on January 8 is a national holiday, it is unknown exactly how old the North Korean leader is. It's widely believed he is in his early-mid thirties. In 2016, the U.S. Treasury Department listed his birth year as 1984 when they placed sanctions on North Korea.

 (KCNA via REUTERS)

2. Kim Jong Un is the world's youngest leader, according to the date listed by the Treasury. 

(STR/AFP/Getty Images)

3. Kim Jong Un is very passionate about basketball. He is reportedly a big fan of Michael Jordan and has a friendly relationship with Jordan's former Chicago Bulls teammate Dennis Rodman. Rodman has visited the secluded nation multiple times and even sang him "Happy Birthday" before an exhibition game in Jan. 2014. 

(REUTERS/KCNA)

4. Kim Jong Un reportedly has a love for smoking, whiskey and cheese

(KCNA/via Reuters)

5. Kim Jong Un's older half-brother Kim Jong Nam was killed in Feb. 2017 by two women who smeared VX nerve agent on his face at an airport in Kuala Lumpur. The women were arrested following his death. Many believe the hit was directed by North Korea. 

(KCNA; REUTERS)

6. Kim Jong Un has two college degrees. One is in physics from Kim il Sung University and another as an Army officer obtained from the Kim Il Sung Military University.

(KCNA/REUTERS)

7. Kim Jong Un attended boarding school in Switzerland. It is widely disputed how much time he spent at the school. Most reports say he was abroad from 1998-2000. 

(KCNA/REUTERS)

8. Kim Jong Un is the only general in the world that does not have any military experience. 

(KCNA/REUTERS)

9. He married Ri Sol Ju in 2009. The couple has at least one daughter named Ju Ae. 

(KCNA/REUTERS)

10. Kim Jong Un had his uncle Jang Song Thaek arrested and executed for treachery in 2013. 

(REUTERS/Kyodo)

11. Kim Jong Un hand selected North Korea's first all-female music group -- Moranbong Band. They made their debut in 2012. 

(ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)

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An Interpol red notice, an international alert just short of an arrest warrant, has been issued for the four, who were caught on airport CCTV cameras observing the murder, police said.

Naran Singh, who is also on Huong's defense team, has asked prosecutors to release the names of the four suspects charged with the women.

Gooi Soon Seng, Siti Aisyah’s lawyer, did not respond to an emailed request for comment. He has previously said the presence of other suspects would change the case completely.    

SEE MORE: Top general warns North Korea will have nuclear weapons capable of reaching the US in a 'very short rime’

"We believe the main suspects are the four North Koreans that have left the country. If we were able to arrest them, everything would be as clear as daylight," Gooi told reporters after a pre-trial hearing in July.

SAFE PASSAGE

The once cozy ties between Malaysia and North Korea have been frayed after North Korea questioned Malaysia's handling of the investigation into Kim Jong Nam's murder.

The Malaysian government expelled the North Korean ambassador. In response, Pyongyang barred all Malaysians from leaving the country. Malaysia only secured their release in exchange for returning Kim Jong Nam's body to North Korea and safe passage home for three North Korean men wanted for questioning in the case.

Malaysia on Thursday banned its citizens from traveling to North Korea, citing security concerns from Pyongyang's nuclear tests. The travel ban follows a visit earlier this month to Washington by Prime Minister Najib Razak, who told U.S. President Donald Trump Malaysia has stopped doing business with North Korea, in line with U.N. sanctions.

North Korea is not a member of Interpol, and Pyongyang was unlikely to entertain any request from Malaysia to return the suspects in the absence of an extradition treaty between the two countries, said Ahmad Martadha Mohamed, an associate professor at Universiti Utara Malaysia.

"Indirectly, this will make it very difficult for Malaysia to put any pressure on North Korea to send the suspects back," he said.

(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Bill Tarrant)

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