A Malaysian judge says he cannot rule out the possibility that the murder of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s estranged half-brother was a political assassination.
But the judge has told a court – where two women are standing trial over the killing – that there is insufficient evidence to prove that any government had orchestrated it.
Kim Jong-nam was killed at Kuala Lumpur’s international airport as he prepared to board a flight in February 2017.
The judge came to his conclusion even though the US has said that the North Korean government carried out the assassination using the banned nerve agent VX.
Malaysia’s High Court ruled that the two female suspects, who claim that they were tricked into murdering Kim Jong-nam, will continue to face trial.
The pair – Siti Aisyah from Indonesia and Doan Thi Huong from Vietnam – are accused of smearing VX, a chemical weapon banned by the UN, on his face in a planned hit.
They face the death penalty if convicted.
The women were guarded by heavily-armed officers, whose faces were covered with masks, as they were led into and out of court on Thursday.
Judge Azmi Ariffin ruled that the trial would continue and asked the pair to enter their defence.
The women – who prosecutors claim were well-trained assassins – looked shocked and tearful as the ruling was handed down, Channel News Asia reported.
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The judge could have acquitted the pair if he had decided that there was insufficient evidence to proceed with a murder trial.
But he accepted the prosecution’s case that the women, along with four people still at large, had caused the 45-year-old exile’s death.
He added: "I must therefore call upon them to enter their defence on their respective charges."
The women have previously claimed that they thought they were taking part in a TV prank.
Aisyah’s lawyer Gooi Soon Seng told reporters after the hearing: "We are deeply disappointed with the ruling … We will do our best at the defence stage."
In March, the US State Department said the North Korean government was behind the assassination and VX was used in the killing, as it imposed fresh sanctions on Kim Jong-un’s regime.
Chilling CCTV shows a woman approaching Kim Jong-nam and grasping his face from behind near the airport’s check-in counters before quickly leaving.
Kim Jong-nam, who was living in exile in Macau, had criticised his family’s dynastic rule of North Korea.
His half-brother had ordered his execution, according to some South Korean lawmakers.
Pyongyang has denied claims that it was involved in the murder.
The trial is set to resume in November.
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