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Post-mortem: VX poison killed brother of North Korean leader

Doan Thi Huong was escorted by police as she left the court house in Shah Alam, Malaysia, on Tuesday. She is one of two women accused of killing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half brother.

Vincent Thian/Associated Press

Doan Thi Huong was escorted by police as she left the court house in Shah Alam, Malaysia, on Tuesday. She is one of two women accused of killing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half brother.

SHAH ALAM, Malaysia — A Malaysian government pathologist testified Tuesday at the trial of two women accused of killing the estranged half brother of North Korea’s leader that the banned VX nerve agent caused his death.

His report, submitted as evidence at the trial in Malaysia’s High Court, stated that VX was found not just on Kim Jong Nam’s face and eyes but also in his blood, urine, clothing, and bag. The 11-page report said an examination of Kim’s body showed damage to his organs, including part of the brain, both lungs, his liver, and spleen.

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Siti Aisyah of Indonesia and Doan Thi Huong of Vietnam pleaded not guilty on Monday, the trial’s first day, to killing Kim on Feb. 13 in a crowded Kuala Lumpur airport terminal.

They are accused of wiping VX on Kim’s face in an assassination widely thought to have been orchestrated by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

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The women have said they thought they were playing a harmless prank for a hidden-camera TV show and were tricked by men suspected of being North Korean agents.

Mohamad Shah Mahmood, one of two pathologists who examined Kim’s body, told the court that ‘‘the cause of death is acute VX nerve agent poisoning,’’ and that there were no other contributing factors.

The post-mortem report said toxicology tests found traces of drugs in Kim’s body used to treat diabetes, hypertension, and gout. The report gave Kim’s age as 46 and his name as Kim Chol, the pseudonym he used in the North Korean passport he carried at the time of his death.

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Kim weighed 211 pounds and had tattoos on his chest, arms, and back, including a colored dragon head breathing fire and a man with two fish-like figures, the report said.

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 VX. Its government has denied any role in the killing and hasn’t even acknowledged the dead man was Kim Jong Nam.

The post-mortem report concurred with the testimony of a Malaysian government pathologist, who said Kim had extremely low levels of an enzyme vital for nervous system function in his body due to poisoning.

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

The low level of the enzyme ‘‘could be caused by poison such as pesticide or nerve agent,’’ she said, explaining that a poison such as VX will inhibit the enzyme level, cause heart and lung problems, and symptoms such as profuse sweating and vomiting.

Nur Ashikin also testified that blood tests on the two murder suspects found they had normal enzyme levels, but this may not conclusively show they were not exposed to VX because the women may have been in contact with the nerve agent at a low concentration or may have decontaminated themselves by washing their hands with soap or taken an antidote.

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

The defendants have said they thought they were playing a harmless prank for a hidden-camera TV show.

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Kim, the eldest son of the family that has ruled North Korea since its founding, had been living abroad for years.

He reportedly fell out of favor with North Korea’s rulers in 2001 when he was caught trying to enter Japan using a false passport, and saying he wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland.

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