Defence lays out history of pranks at trial into killing of Kim Jong-un's brother

A woman accused of poisoning the North Korean leader's half-brother played a harmless prank on a Vietnamese government official in Hanoi less than two weeks before the sensational killing, her lawyer told a Malaysian court on Tuesday.

Defendant told police she had used a substance like baby cream for pranks, but not on Feb. 17, 2017

In this Oct. 12, 2017, file photo, Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong is escorted by police officers as she arrives for a court hearing at Shah Alam court house in Shah Alam, outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Huong, accused of killing Kim Jong-nam, the North Korean leader's estranged half-brother told police she realized she had been used to murder him after she was detained, her lawyer said Tuesday. (Sadiq Asyraf/Associated Press)

A woman accused of poisoning the North Korean leader's half-brother played a prank on a Vietnamese government official in Hanoi less than two weeks before the sensational killing, her lawyer told a Malaysian court on Tuesday.

Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong is charged, along with an Indonesian woman, Siti Aisyah, with killing Kim Jong Nam by smearing his face with VX, a banned chemical weapon, at Kuala Lumpur airport on Feb. 13, 2017.

Defence lawyers say the women thought they were part of a prank reality show and did not know they were handling poison.

Kim, the eldest son in the family that has ruled North Korea since its founding, had been living abroad for years after falling out of favour. It is thought he was assassinated because he was perceived to be a threat to the rule of his half brother, Kim Jong-un. Malaysian officials have never officially accused North Korea of involvement in Kim's death and have made it clear they don't want the trial politicized.

Hisyam Teh, Huong's lawyer, screened a closed-circuit television video recorded at Hanoi's international airport on Feb. 2, 2017, which showed her approaching a man from behind and putting her arms around his neck.

The man was a Vietnamese government official named Trinh Ngoc Linh, Teh told the court.

"[Linh] had given a statement to police saying that on that date, he had arrived in Hanoi from Singapore with his mother," Teh said, while questioning Wan Azirul Nizam, the lead police investigator in the case.

Linh would travel to Malaysia to testify if the defence needed him, Teh told reporters during a break in the hearing.

Alleged handler 'Mr. Y' not in custody

Teh also screened two videos showing Huong acting as the victim of pranks played by a Vietnamese filmmaker, Nguyen Manh Quang.

Quang, in an affidavit submitted to the court, said he had hired Huong to act in the videos, recorded in 2016.

"These videos explain why the accused identified herself as an actress," Teh said, citing Huong's statement to police.

In the statement, Huong said she was tricked into acting for a prank show by a man named Mr. Y, later identified as Ri Ji Hyon, one of four North Koreans who fled Malaysia on the day of the killing. None of the four has been returned to Malaysia to face charges.

The court heard that Huong was told by Mr. Y that the video on Feb. 13 would be important because it would be uploaded on YouTube. She told police she wasn't able to contact Mr. Y after that. She returned to the airport two days later to carry out another prank but there was no sign of Mr. Y and she was detained at the airport.

"Mr. Y is a liar. He used me to do video," she said.

Before the killing, Huong said, she played several pranks in Malaysia and Vietnam.

These often involved her approaching unsuspecting men and putting her hands on their faces or kissing them on the cheek. She would then apologize before running away, she said.

Claimed no ill effects from new substance

On one occasion, Ri applied "baby cream" on her hands and told her to put her hands on a man's face from behind, she said. He applied an oil-like substance on her hands on the day of the killing.

"I don't feel anything on my hands, only sticky and oily," she said in the statement, adding that she had not experienced any burning or pain.

Kim Jong-nam, the North Korean dictator's half-brother, was murdered in one of the most audacious political assassinations in history. The killers were two young women who thought they were just part of a prank show. 45:32

Ri told her a new actress and actor would join them for the airport prank. He described the actor as a fat and bald man with a "black bag and jacket", matching Kim's description on the day of his death.

"I didn't know that the actor already died until Feb. 16, 2017, when the police told me," Huong said.

Defence lawyers argue the killing was politically motivated, with many key suspects linked to the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur, suggesting the women were mere pawns.

The police investigator Nizam disagreed with the defence lawyer's assertion that Huong was tricked into carrying out the killing and was a scapegoat. He agreed however that Huong, who entered Malaysia on Feb 4, could have fled the country and disposed of her VX-tainted clothing if she had known she was given VX to kill Kim.

Teh told the court that instead, Huong had a flight ticket to return to Hanoi on Feb 23.

The two women face the death penalty if convicted, but not if they lacked intent to kill. 

The trial is to resume Wednesday.

With files from Associated Press