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  • Indonesian Siti Aisyah, right, is escorted by police as she leaves after the court hearing at Shah Alam court house in Shah Alam, outside Kuala Lumpur, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017, in Malaysia. (AP Photo/Sadiq Asyraf)

Wednesday, October 04, 2017 8:13 am

Masks worn in Malaysian court as VX-tainted evidence shown

EILEEN NG | Associated Press

SHAH ALAM, Malaysia – A Malaysian judge and court officials wore face masks and surgical gloves in court Wednesday as samples were admitted as evidence of where VX nerve agent was found on the body and clothing of the murdered half brother of North Korea's leader.

On the third day of the trial of two women accused of smearing the banned nerve agent on Kim Jong Nam at a Malaysian airport, government pathologist Mohamad Shah Mahmood said tests detected VX, as well as VX precursors and VX byproducts, in Kim's eyes, on his face, in his blood and urine, and on his clothing.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers then took a 20-minute break to examine the samples, which were sealed in transparent plastic bags. Most of them wore gloves and masks as a safety precaution after prosecutors warned the VX-tainted items may still be dangerous.

After the break, Judge Azmi Ariffin also covered himself as the samples were officially admitted as evidence.

The two suspects, Siti Aisyah of Indonesia and Doan Thi Huong of Vietnam, have pleaded not guilty to murder charges that could bring the death penalty if they are convicted. They have not testified but their defense has said the women believed they were playing a harmless prank for a hidden-camera TV show and were tricked by men suspected of being North Korean agents.

Prosecutors also sought Wednesday to show VX was the sole cause of death. Mohamad Shah said toxicology tests found six types of drugs in Kim's blood that are used to treat diabetes, hypertension and gout. They included a type of Viagra typically used by heart patients, but he said those drugs and those conditions would not have caused Kim's swift death. He also said the autopsy found no sign Kim had a heart attack.

Mohamad Shah said his conclusion that Kim died of "acute VX poisoning" was based on a chemist report of the presence of VX and the swiftness of death. Earlier testimony showed Kim died within two hours of being attacked in a crowded Kuala Lumpur airport terminal, not within 20 minutes as earlier stated by Malaysia's health ministry.

The pathologist said the VX was most likely applied on Kim's face and eyes, where the nerve agent was detected, with the fastest absorption through the eye mucus. "There is a very slim chance of survival" if VX has entered the bloodstream, he said.

Under cross-examination by defense lawyers, Mohamad Shah acknowledged he had limited knowledge of VX and nerve agents in general. He said he didn't know the amount of the poison that was used.

Gooi Soon Seng, defense lawyer for Aisyah, told the court Mohamad Shah's conclusion that Kim died of acute VX poisoning was biased and prejudicial to the accused because the autopsy findings and clinical symptoms merely showed chemical poisoning.

Mohamad Shah defended his findings, saying the chemist report clearly showed VX was present. Prosecutors said the chemist who prepared the report will testify Thursday.

Defense lawyers also sought to cast doubt that VX was applied on Kim by the two women.

Government doctor Ranjini Sivaganabalan, who specializes in poison, later testified that VX may not be fatal in very low dosages. She disagreed with a defense assertion that as little as 10 milligrams of VX, just a tiny drop, would be lethal to humans.

She agreed that a person with VX on the hands may not be fully decontaminated by washing it off with soap and water.

The judge earlier in the day upheld his ruling that sections of the post-mortem report be removed that defense lawyers said were hearsay or unproven. Part of the expunged section says that two females wiped Kim's face with a "dangerous fluid" at the airport.

Ariffin told prosecutors they could seek a revision of his ruling at the end of their case.

On Tuesday, doctors who treated Kim told the court he arrived at the airport clinic in pain with very high blood pressure and pulse. He then had seizure-like symptoms and his vital signs deteriorated sharply. He was later pronounced dead on arrival at a hospital. Pathologists testified that Kim's symptoms were consistent with VX exposure and that his internal organs showed damage from VX.

The nerve agent is banned by an international treaty as a weapon of mass destruction. But it is believed to be part of North Korea's chemical weapons arsenal. Kim was the eldest son in the current generation of North Korea's dynastic rulers but was believed to have been an outcast who had lived abroad for years. He reportedly never met current leader Kim Jong Un, who is widely believed to have perceived his older sibling as a threat and targeted him for assassination.

The trial is being closely watched by the Indonesian and Vietnamese governments, which hired the defense lawyers for both women.