Indonesian defendant suffers setback in Kim murder trial

Indonesian Siti Aisyah, center, escorted by police, leaves Shah Alam High Court after a court hearing in Shah Alam, Malaysia on Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018. Siti and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, charged with murdering North Korea leader's half brother Kim Jong Nam, were back in Malaysia court for a procedural hearing. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

SHAH ALAM, Malaysia — An Indonesian woman due to begin her defense next month in her trial for the murder in Malaysia of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's half brother suffered a setback Tuesday when a judge rejected her bid to secure statements given to police by seven witnesses.

Siti Aisyah's lawyer, Gooi Soon Seng, said he will appeal the High Court's ruling that the statements were privileged. He said the statements were crucial because most of the witnesses were unreachable.

In August, a High Court judge found there was enough evidence to infer that Aisyah and her Vietnamese co-defendant, Doan Thi Huong, along with four missing North Korean suspects, had engaged in a "well-planned conspiracy" to kill Kim Jong Nam.

The two young women are accused of smearing VX nerve agent on Kim's face in an airport terminal in Kuala Lumpur on Feb. 13, 2017. They have said they thought they were taking part in a prank for a TV show. They are the only suspects in custody. The four North Korean suspects fled the country the same morning Kim was killed.

Aisyah was due to begin testifying on Jan. 7, but Gooi said there will be a delay pending the appeal.

He said one of the witnesses, the man who chauffeured Kim to the airport, had died. He said they have managed to interview only two of the seven witnesses offered by prosecutors, while the others couldn't be contacted. As such, what they had told police could help provide a clearer picture of Kim's death, he said.

Gooi said Tuesday's ruling would "compromise our case."

In his ruling, the judge agreed with prosecutors' contention that the statements shouldn't be made public because there is a risk of tampering with witnesses. The judge said, however, that prosecutors are required to ensure that the witnesses turn up for the trial.

The court didn't set any new trial dates.

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