Malaysian prosecutors say Doan Thi Huong (2nd L) will remain on trial for the gruesome murder of Kim Jong Nam with a toxic nerve agent at a Kuala Lumpur airport in 2017 (AFP Photo/MOHD RASFAN).

Timeline of events in the Kim Jong Nam assassination

A Vietnamese woman who spent more than two years in jail on suspicion of assassinating the North Korean leader’s half-brother was freed from prison Friday, weeks after her Indonesian co-accused was released.

Doan Thi Huong from Vietnam and Indonesian Siti Aisyah had denied murdering Kim Jong Nam, the estranged relative of Kim Jong Un, claiming they were tricked into carrying out the killing by agents from the North.

Huong’s release brings an end to legal proceedings and means there is no one in custody over the murder, with critics saying that those behind the plot are unlikely to ever face justice.

Here is a timeline of key events in the killing.

The Hit

A portly North Korean man, later identified as Kim Jong Nam, dies after being attacked at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on February 13. Seoul points the finger at its northern neighbour and says it was a political hit aimed at weeding out potential rivals to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Malaysian detectives track down two migrant women — one Vietnamese and one Indonesian — who they say is seen on CCTV carrying out the attack.

The two women, who are eventually charged with murder, say they had been paid to carry out what they thought was a prank for a reality TV show.

An autopsy reveals Kim died from exposure to the VX nerve agent, an artificial chemical so deadly it is banned under international treaty and classified by the UN as a weapon of mass destruction.

The Fallout

Kuala Lumpur arrests North Korean citizen Ri Jong Chol in connection with the murder. Over the following days, investigators say diplomats and airline employees from the isolated regime are also wanted for questioning. All are holed up at the North Korean embassy or have already left the country.

North Korea pours scorn on what it calls “absurd” claims that VX was used, saying South Korea and the US are mounting a smear campaign against it.

Pyongyang insists the dead man was called Kim Chol and demands his body be returned. Investigators refuse to release the corpse.

Malaysia cancels a visa-free travel deal with North Korea and expels North Korea’s ambassador. Pyongyang hits back, kicking out Malaysia’s envoy.

Tensions escalate after North Korea bans all Malaysians from leaving Pyongyang. Malaysia retaliates and the international community calls for calm amid allegations of hostage holding.

The Detente

In early March, Ri Jong Chol is released from custody and deported from Malaysia. Frustrated Malaysian police say they believed he was involved in the plot but lacked evidence to prove it.

At the end of the month, Malaysia’s then-prime minister Najib Razak announces an agreement has been reached to return Kim Jong Nam’s body to North Korea. Nine Malaysians stuck in Pyongyang will be free to leave and North Koreans in Kuala Lumpur will be allowed to go home.

In October, the two women go on trial over the murder. They maintain their innocence.

Four men formally accused on a charge sheet of plotting with the women to murder Kim Jong Nam are identified by a police officer as North Koreans who fled Malaysia immediately after the assassination.

The women’s lawyers insist the North Koreans are the real masterminds.

After a lengthy trial, prosecutors unexpectedly drop the murder charge against Aisyah in March 2019, following pressure from the Indonesian government and she returns home.

The following month, Huong is offered and accepts a reduced charge of “causing injury” and is released from prison in May. – AFP