Pathologist: North Korean Had Low Enzyme Due to Poisoning

SHAH ALAM, Malaysia (AP) -
Kim Jong Nam (L, seen in Narita, Japan), exiled half-brother of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un (R). (AP Photos/Shizuo Kambayashi, Wong Maye-E, File)

Outcast North Korean scion Kim Jong Nam had extremely low levels of an enzyme vital for nervous system function in his body due to poisoning, a Malaysian government pathologist testified Tuesday at the trial of two women accused of smearing VX nerve agent on Kim’s face in a brazen airport assassination.

Blood tests on the two murder suspects showed they had normal enzyme levels, said chemical pathologist Nur Ashikin Othman on the second day of their trial in Malaysia’s High Court.

The potency of VX depends on the dosage or concentration, the type and duration of exposure and whether decontamination measures such as washing hands or taking an antidote were made, she added.

Gooi Soon Seng, the lawyer for Indonesian Siti Aisyah, told reporters the normal enzyme levels supported their assertion that the two women were not exposed to VX.

Siti Aisyah of Indonesia and Doan Thi Huong of Vietnam pleaded not guilty as their trial opened Monday in the killing of Kim, widely thought to have been orchestrated by his half-brother, North Korea’s third-generation leader, Kim Jong Un. The women have said they thought they were playing a harmless prank for a hidden-camera show and were tricked by men suspected of being North Korean agents.

North Korea has a history of ordering killings of people it views as threats to its regime and its chemical weapons arsenal is believed to include the banned VX nerve agent. Pyongyang has denied any role in the killing and hasn’t even acknowledged the dead man was Kim Jong Nam.

Nur Ashikin told the court that tests on Kim’s blood showed a very low level of 344 units per liter of the cholinesterase enzyme, which breaks down neurotransmitters in the body that send signals to the brain and controls the muscles. The normal level is above 5,300 units per liter, she said.

The low level of the enzyme “in Kim Chol’s body could be caused by poison such as pesticide or [a] nerve agent,” she told the court.

She said poison such as VX will inhibit the enzyme level, cause heart and lung problems and symptoms such as profuse sweating and vomiting.

Earlier, airport clinic doctor Nik Mohamad Adzrul Ariff Raja Azlan testified that Kim suffered from sudden respiratory failure that caused his heart to eventually stop. He said Kim was clutching his head in apparent pain before a seizure. Nik said he administered atropine to boost Kim’s heart, though he didn’t know at the time that atropine was an antidote for nerve agents like VX.

The atropine and other medical treatment partly helped to stabilize Kim’s blood pressure and oxygen level so he could be taken to the hospital.

Kim, who was 45 or 46, was the eldest son of the family that has ruled North Korea since its founding, yet he reportedly fell out of favor in 2001 when he was caught trying to enter Japan on a false passport, saying he wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland. He had been living abroad for years and at the time of his death was traveling on a North Korean diplomatic passport under the name “Kim Chol,” the name being used in court.