KUALA LUMPUR: Pathologists who tested samples from two women accused of smearing a nerve agent on the estranged half-brother of North Korea's leader found they had normal levels of the cholinesterase enzyme, indicating that they had not been poisoned themselves.
This was revealed at the murder trial of Kim Jong Nam in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday (Oct 3).
Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Doan Thi Huong, a Vietnamese, are charged with assassinating Kim by smearing his face with VX, a chemical poison banned by the United Nations, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (KLIA2) on Feb 13.
The prosecution brought samples of Kim's liver, hair and blood into the courtroom, sealed in a plastic bag to avoid contamination from VX, which is classified as a weapon of mass destruction. Norashikin Othman from Hospital Kuala Lumpur said a normal person has between 5,320 to 12,290 units per litre of the enzyme.
Kim - who the prosecution referred to as Kim Chol, the name on his passport - had only 344 units per litre.
"The low cholinesterase level in Kim Chol could be caused by exposure to poisons such as insecticide or nerve agents," Dr Norashikin told the court on Tuesday. Huong's was at 7,163 units per litre while Siti Aisyah's was at 6,781 - both in the normal range, according to the doctor.
Police had said the two had walked away from Kim with their hands facing outward before washing their hands.
When asked by the prosecution how one could decontaminate from the poison, Dr Norashikin said this could be done by washing the hands, wearing something that acts as a barrier or taking an antidote.
The antidote for VX, according to her, is atropine and oxine.
At an interview after the hearing, defense lawyer Gooi Soon Seng said he was surprised that they were not informed about the low level of cholinesterase in both accused.
"This piece of evidence was never served to us," he said.
Asked about the theory that his client, Siti Aisyah, had applied antidote, he said: "Not possible. Antidote does not work that way.
"The antidote works in such a way that when you have low cholinesterase, it activates your muscle mechanism once again - so that you are able to breathe."
He added: "The antidote is taken after you have been exposed to VX."
Earlier, Nik Mohd Adzrul Ariff Raja Azlan, the doctor who had treated Kim at a clinic at KLIA2, testified he had given his unconscious patient atropine and adrenaline after he stopped having seizures. However, Kim remained unconscious, though his vital signs improved after administration of the drugs.
Kim was later pronounced dead in the ambulance on the way to hospital.
The murder sparked a fierce row between North Korea and Malaysia, which had been one of Pyongyang's few allies amid global alarm over the country's atomic weapons programme, with both countries expelling each other's ambassadors.
The women - who may face the death penalty if convicted - pleaded not guilty to murder charges and claimed they were duped into believing they were taking part in a prank for a reality TV show.