An Indonesian woman accused of assassinating the North Korean leader's half-brother was freed Monday after Malaysian prosecutors dropped a murder charge against her, in a shock decision a year and a half after she went on trial.
Siti Aisyah smiled as she was ushered through a pack of journalists and into a car outside the court, where she had been on trial alongside a Vietnamese woman for the murder of Kim Jong Nam at Kuala Lumpur airport in February 2017.
"I feel happy. I did not know this will happen. I did not expect it," said the 27-year-old, who was wearing a red headscarf.
It was a surprise move as the Shah Alam High Court, outside Kuala Lumpur, had been due only to hear the testimony of the Vietnamese accused Doan Thi Huong on Monday.
Lawyers for Huong, who sobbed in court as the charge against Aisyah was dropped, said they were seeking an adjournment.
The women had always denied murder, saying they were tricked by North Korean spies into carrying out the Cold War-style hit using VX nerve agent and believed it was a prank for a reality TV show.
Their lawyers presented them as scapegoats, saying that authorities were unable to catch the real killers. Four North Koreans -- formally accused of the murder alongside the women -- fled Malaysia shortly after the assassination.
The trial, which began in October 2017, had been due to resume Monday with the defence stage of proceedings after a break of several months.
But at the start of the hearing, prosecutor Muhammad Iskandar Ahmad requested that the murder charge against Aisyah be withdrawn and that she be given a discharge, without giving a reason.
"Merely a scapegoat"
"Siti Aisyah is freed," judge Azmin Ariffin told the court, as he approved the request. "She can leave now."
Indonesian ambassador to Malaysia Rusdi Kirana told reporters outside court: "We are pleased with the court decision. We will try to fly Siti back to Indonesia today or as soon as possible."
Aisyah's lawyer Gooi Soon Seng said he was grateful for the decision.
"We still truly believe that she is merely a scapegoat and she's innocent," he said.
Prosecutors had presented their case in the first stage of the trial. Witnesses described how the victim -- the estranged half-brother of Kim Jong Un and once seen as heir apparent to the North Korean leadership -- died in agony shortly after being attacked.
CCTV footage seen in court during the trial showed the suspects rushing to separate bathrooms in the airport after the murder, before leaving in taxis.
Prosecutors likened the murder to the plot of a James Bond movie and argued the pair were well-trained assassins.
But their lawyers argued the four North Koreans were the masterminds, and provided the women with poison on the day of the murder before fleeing.
In August, a judge ruled there was sufficient evidence the suspects had engaged in a "well-planned conspiracy" with the North Koreans to murder Kim, and ordered that the trial continue to the defence stage.
South Korea has accused the North of ordering the hit, which Pyongyang denies.
Malaysia had been one of the nuclear-armed North's few allies but the assassination badly damaged ties, and led to the countries expelling each other's ambassadors.
A murder conviction carries a mandatory penalty of death in Malaysia. The government has vowed to abolish capital punishment for all crimes, although parliament still needs to vote on changing the law.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)