SHAH ALAM, April 1 -- The Vietnamese woman accused of murdering the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was sentenced to three years and four months' jail on Monday (April 1) after pleading guilty to a lesser charge.
Doan Thi Huong, 30, will likely be freed in May because her prison time could be reduced by a third due to good behaviour. Her lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik told reporters in the Shah Alam High Court: "According to prison procedures, all prisoners are entitled to one-third remission (of their sentence). So by our calculations, she would be released on the 4th of May.” Huong escaped the death penalty after Malaysian prosecutors offered an alternative charge, under Section 324 of the Penal Code, of causing hurt. This charge carries a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison.
Wearing a headscarf and a white sweater, Huong looked on in disbelief and growing relief as the court proceedings unfolded. In a short statement through her translator, she thanked the court, the Attorney-General, prosecutors, lawyers and the Vietnamese government. She told reporters that she would like to pursue acting and singing once she was freed. “I’m very happy. I want (to) sing and act.”
Her lawyer told the court that she had been honest both on her reasons for coming to Malaysia and during police investigations. “She is neither a criminal nor has a propensity to commit a crime,” Mr Hisyam said, citing her background. Her father is a war veteran and a stall owner. She is the youngest of five children. “However, she was naive and gullible," he said, adding that her weaknesses had been exploited to carry out the murder "under the camouflage of funny videos and pranks”.
Prosecutor Muhamad Iskandar Ahmad had urged the court to take into account the seriousness of the offence and public interest of the case in sentencing. “It’s clear (from the airport CCTV) after the accused wiped the face of the deceased, she just walked off. From there, we can see the conduct of the accused,” Mr Iskandar said. Judge Azmi Ariffin called Huong a "very lucky person" as he pronounced the verdict. "First of all, Ms Doan, I must say that you are a very lucky person today.
"I say lucky because from a murder charge under Section 302 that comes with mandatory death penalty, the prosecution offered a charge under Section 324 with maximum sentence of only 10 years, with fine, whipping, or any two. However the Criminal Procedural Code says that female cannot be whipped, so a whipping sentence cannot be given." The decision came two weeks after her co-accused, Indonesian Siti Aisyah, was unexpectedly released on March 11.
Huong had been accused alongside Ms Aisyah, 27, of killing Mr Kim Jong Nam by smearing VX nerve agent on his face at Kuala Lumpur airport in February 2017, in a brazen Cold War-style hit that shocked the world. The women had denied murder, saying they believed they were taking part in a prank for a reality show and were tricked by North Korean agents into carrying out the hit. The two women spent nearly two years in custody. Huong had been scheduled to testify for the first time on March 12. However, the trial was postponed after the court found her to be “mentally and physically” unfit when she learnt that the application for her release was rejected. Her lawyers accused the Malaysian government of “discrimination”, as both women had put up a similar defence before Malaysia’s High Court. Reports said Indonesian government had lobbied hard for Ms Aisyah’s release. A letter from Malaysia’s Attorney-General Tommy Thomas to Indonesian Minister of Law and Human Rights Yasonna Laoly said the charges against Ms Aisyah were dropped after “taking into account the good relations” between the two countries.
KUALA LUMPUR, March 12 -- When bombs started falling around her in the ISIS-controlled territory in Syria, Lidia decided it was time to leave. For the first time in more than four years, the 29-year-old Malaysian longed to return home.
The Mandarin-speaking medical lab technician disappeared from the Southeast Asian nation with her infant son and husband in October 2014 to travel secretly to Syria. Two weeks ago, she sent a text message to her father in the southern state of Johor to tell him she had fled the territory of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) and asked him to help her return to Malaysia. "I never lost hope that one day Lidia would tell me she wants to come home," her father, a Johor-based businessman who declined to be named. Lidia is one of the 13 Malaysians now wanting to come home as an offensive by the United States-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) enters its final stage in the last ISIS enclave in the village of Baghouz in eastern Syria, and the authorities are working out how to repatriate them. "We are trying to bring them home … yes, it includes Lidia. But you know, the situation is difficult as it involves many parties from different countries," Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, head of counter terrorism for Special Branch, the intelligence arm of the Malaysian police.
Interrogation and rehabilitation
While some countries are attempting to strip former fighters and their families of citizenship and prevent them from returning, Malaysia says citizens will be allowed to come back, provided they comply with checks and enforcement and complete a one-month government-run rehabilitation programme.
"Not everyone will be detained but all returnees will be interrogated," Ayob said. "We will conduct thorough checks and investigation on each returnee. We bring in clerics and psychologists to evaluate their ideology and psychological make-up. "We will compare intelligence which we received from friendly foreign services. If there is evidence that a returnee was involved in ISIS's militant activities, he or she would be charged in court," Ayob added. To date, 11 Malaysians have returned to the country. Eight were charged in court and convicted, all of them men. The other three were one woman and two children aged three and five. "The woman underwent a rehabilitation programme and has now returned to her kampung village," Ayob said. "She continues to be monitored." Even though ISIS has all but collapsed in Iraq and Syria, there are Malaysians who are still willing to fight for the group, according to police. "We are keeping an eye on them," Ayob said. "Those who cannot go to Syria are now setting their sights on Mindanao in southern Philippines where militant groups there have links to ISIS." Meanwhile, 51 Malaysians remain in Syria, including 17 children, according to Ayob.
KUALA LUMPUR, March 8 -- The Coroner’s Court here has questioned the motives of an investigating officer (IO) tasked with the Ivana Smit case, following its ruling earlier today that the Dutch model’s death was a misadventure.
Coroner Mahyon Talib, who made the ruling, said Faizal Abdullah could have done a better job when the case unfolded in 2017. She also asked why he had not changed the sudden death report (SDR) to an investigation paper (IP). “He could have taken more evidence (with an IP). Why didn’t he do this? “He should also have checked the unit for any alcoholic drinks and so on and passed this to the forensics department for analysis and DNA testing. This was not done.” Mahyon also said Faizal had failed to order the first IO for the case, Sergeant Haliza Hamdan, to do so despite it being common practice for the police.
An SDR is usually opened when the deceased is believed to have died due to natural causes. IPs are more general in nature and take into consideration other causes of death such as murder and foul play. An SDR was opened before the police went to the scene on Dec 7, 2017. SN Nair, who represented Smit’s family, had questioned Faizal during the inquest into her death last year for not choosing to open an IP. Despite the testimony of three police witnesses at the crime scene that Smit was found in suspicious circumstances, Mahyon had acknowledged that the SDR was opened on the instruction of Faizal’s superiors. She also criticised Faizal for failing to further question American-Kazakh couple Alex Johnson and Luna Almaz despite their “suspicious” statements on their activities on Dec 7.
“It is a mystery and definitely a tragedy that Faizal rejected this and did not do the right thing,” she said in her written judgment, referring to their statements to the police. Smit had been staying with the couple in their 20th-floor unit at CapSquare Residence near here on the day she was found dead. They were the last people to see Smit alive. Smit, 18, was found sprawled in the nude on the balcony of a sixth-floor unit on the afternoon of Dec 7. Faizal had concluded, among others, that the couple was innocent and required no further investigation. Shortly after, they fled the country. They did not return to testify in the inquest. Mahyon also criticised pathologist Dr Nurliza Abdullah whom she said had made assumptions on how Smit died based on pictures of the scene instead of going there to see it for herself. She also reiterated her belief that Smit had been alive at 6.50am, as the latter was talking to her boyfriend, Lukas Kramer, at the time. She said the opinion of Dutch pathologist Dr Frank Van der Goot that the injuries at the back of Smit’s neck and on her hands were older than the rest of her bruises tied in with her opinion on when rigor mortis set in. She said rigor mortis began at 2pm on Dec 7, estimating that it had taken four hours from either 10am or 11am to commence, based on the exterior tropical climate. She said this, together with how Smit’s hands which looked like they were placed on a blanket when she was found, would have made it impossible for her to be dressed, which would explain why the model was found naked.
Mahyon earlier said that there was no criminal element found in Smit’s death. She also said Smit had died between 6.50am and 2pm, and had likely fallen to her death from a high place. She said hyperthermia could have occurred, as testified by a witness, as bottles of apple cider were found at the scene which could have been laced with drugs. But Mahyon said she had ruled the model’s death as a misadventure as the court could not determine what had happened between Smit, Alex and Luna on Dec 7.
"SET drops ahead of Thai Raksa Chart ruling"
BANGKOK, March 6 -- Thai stocks dropped ahead of the Constitutional Court' ruling on the Thai Raksa Chart Party, while Philippine shares jumped 2% on Wednesday, led by real estate and consumer stocks.
The Stock Exchange of Thailand main index fell 13.49 points or 0.82%, in turnover of 44 billion baht, with all sectors except energy in the negative territory. The court will give its ruling on Thursday whether to ban Thak Raksa Chart for nominating Princess Ubolratana as its candidate for prime minister in the March 24 general election. The Election Commission had asked the court to dissolve the party after it nominated the princess. "Tomorrow's ruling will be worth closely monitoring as it may trigger a start of heightened political risks that could derail the Thai economy," OCBC Bank said in a note.
The Philippine benchmark stock index, which was Southeast Asia's worst performer last month, gained the most among regional markets as a selloff last week made valuations more attractive. Foreign investors bought net 273 million pesos (US$5.23 million) in equities on Wednesday, exchange data shows. SM Prime Holdings, the country's second-largest firm by market value, advanced 3.6%, while real estate conglomerate Ayala Land Inc gained 2.3%.
Singapore stocks closed lower for a second session in three, dragged by industrial and consumer stocks. Index heavyweight Jardine Matheson Holdings Ltd dipped 2.1%, while food retailer Dairy Farm International Holdings Ltd weakened 4%.
Meanwhile, Indonesian shares snapped two consecutive sessions of losses, helped by consumer and financial stocks. Clove cigarette maker Gudang Garam Tbk PT rose 2.1%, while lender PT Bank Mayapada Internasional Tbk added 11.4%.
"Real estate, financial shares drag Philippine market"
BANGKOK, February 19 -- Philippine stocks fell the most on Tuesday dragged by losses in the real estate and financial stocks, as most of the Southeast Asian equity markets ended lower, while Malaysia gained as investors took positions amid the earnings season.
The Philippine index dropped about 1% to its lowest level since Jan 8, dragged by losses in real estate and financial stocks. "The Philippine market right now is in search of a new catalyst and with none in sight, some investors are already choosing to take profit," said Rachelle Cruz, an analyst with AP Securities. BDO Unibank Inc shed 3.2%, while Ayala Land Inc dropped 3.7% to close at its lowest level since Jan 3. "Ayala Corp has $293 million worth of bonds that are exchangeable to shares of ALI and that will mature by that time (in May). Some investors may look to cash in, exerting a downward pressure on ALI's share price," a note from RCBC securities said.
Meanwhile, the Malaysian index gained 0.8% to a three-month closing high on the back of materials and utilities. Petronas Chemicals Group Bhd rose 3.9% ahead of its fourth quarter result announcement. Shares of Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd strengthened more than 1%, after posting a jump in quarterly net profit.
Real estate stocks drove the Vietnam index marginally higher, with Vinhomes JSC and Vingroup JSC rising 6.1% and 2%, respectively. Singapore and Indonesia indexes traded relatively lower.
"SET drops, other Asean stock markets rise"
BANGKOK, February 14 -- The Stock Exchange of Thailand index ended lower, while other Southeast Asian stock markets closed higher on Thursday as a surprise jump in monthly Chinese trade data brought slight relief amid continued focus on Sino-US talks.
The SET index eased 3.09 points or 0.19% to 1,652.64, in turnover of 45.88 billion baht, despite gains in shares of telecom operators. True Corporation jumped 25 satang or 4.81% to 5.45 baht, Advanced Info Service added 2.50 baht or 1.37% to 184.50 and Jasmine International ended 25 satang or 4.24% higher to 6.15 baht. PTT shares however dropped 75 satang or 1.53% to 48.25 baht. The region's biggest trading partner, China, reported better-than-expected trade figures for January, easing some fears of an imminent slowdown in the economic powerhouse. High-level talks between the country and the United States have been a major focal point for markets this week. US President Donald Trump is considering a 60-day extension of the Mar 1 deadline for higher tariffs on Chinese imports, Bloomberg reported on Thursday, citing unnamed sources.
The Philippine benchmark firmed 0.9% to snap four consecutive sessions of losses and led the gains among its regional peers. Financial stocks were the biggest boost to the index, with BDO Unibank Inc rising 2.3% to post its best close in nearly 11-months. Asian fast-food giant Jollibee Foods Corp jumped 1.7% and was also among the top gainers on the Philippine benchmark after reporting a rise in fourth-quarter net income. Philippine markets had seen large outflows over the past four sessions as foreign investors rebalanced their portfolios.
Meanwhile, the Vietnam stock exchange continued to gain for the fourth straight day, closing 0.8% up, supported by a persisting rally in the country's real estate sector. Property developers Vingroup JSC and Vincom Retail JSC gained 3.6% each. "(The) Vietnamese market has been moving in a positive direction on Wall Street cues. Investor sentiment has also been supported by a possibly positive outcome of the Trump – Kim summit slated for Hanoi later this month," said a stock broker with SSI Securities Corp. "Traditionally, cashflows into the market in Vietnam are often strong in the first quarter of the year as several corporate investors have abundant cash at hands."
The Malaysian index ticked up 0.2%, after data showed on Thursday that the country's economy expanded 4.7% in the October-December quarter from a year earlier, in line with expectations, ending four quarters of slowing growth.
Singapore's index ended 0.3% higher ahead of a fourth-quarter GDP report due on Friday. The country's economy likely grew at a slower pace than initially estimated as growth in the city-state's manufacturing and services sectors came under strain from slowing demand, a Reuters poll showed.
"Energy stocks lead SET gains, Philippine shares continue slide"
BANGKOK, Februari 13 -- Thai shares rose on Wednesday, with energy stocks leading broad-based gains, while the Philippine index declined for a fourth consecutive session.
Singapore stocks closed at a more than 4-month high, leading the gains in Southeast Asia after US President Donald Trump said he could relax the China trade deal deadline. Trump said on Tuesday that he could let the March 1 deadline to reach a trade agreement "slide for a little while," although he added he was not inclined to do so. However, his remarks spurred a rally in Wall Street overnight, as well as a number of Asian players.
The Stock Exchange of Thailand index advanced 13.24 points or 0.81% to 1,655.73, in turnover worth 45 billion baht. Shares of energy stocks were among the largest boosts to the index. PTT Plc added 50 satang or 1.03% to 49 baht. PTT Global Chemical Plc gained 1.75 baht or 2.59% to 69.25 baht and PTT Exploration and Production Plc advanced 2.50 baht or 2.06% to 124 baht.
The Philippine index, which has outperformed its peers this year so far, declined for a fourth consecutive session to end 1.1% lower, pressured by industrial and financial stocks. Industrial conglomerate JG Summit Holdings Inc dropped 3.9% and was the top loser on the benchmark, whereas BDO Unibank Inc fell 1.1%. Philippine's latest downturn appears to be a flow driven correction due to international investors reallocating their funds, said Rachelle C Cruz, an analyst with AP Securities.
The Singapore index, which has a high trade exposure with China, outpaced its peers for the day with a 1.4% rise, posting its highest close since Oct 3, 2018. Financials bolstered the benchmark with lender United Overseas Bank Ltd jumping 2.5%.
The Vietnam benchmark rose for the third day, closing about 0.8% higher, driven by financial and consumer stocks.
Malaysian shares ended 0.1% lower ahead of the country's fourth-quarter GDP figures released on Thursday.
"SET ends flat, Malaysia stocks lead losses in Asean"
BANGKOK, February 8 -- Thai shares lost slightly on Friday, while Malaysia stocks led losses, as investors were rattled after the United States dismissed the likelihood of a quick resolution to the long drawn Sino-US trade war.
US President Donald Trump on Thursday said he would not be meeting China's Xi Jinping before the March 1 deadline, sparking fears that two economies would not be able to clinch a pivotal trade deal.
The negative sentiment dampened regional markets and pushed broader Asian shares lower, though trading remained thin as China was closed for Lunar New Year holidays.
The Stock Exchange of Thailand index eased 1.43 points or 0.09% to 1,651.68, in turnover worth 56.86 billion baht. The SET index dropped 16 points shortly after the open before it rebounded to end flat.
The Malaysian index ended 0.4% lower, falling the most across the region. Index heavyweight Axiata Group Bhd fell 4.4% to an over two-month low, dragging the benchmark. According to local media reports Axiata Group and its unit Ncell are to foot a tax bill of 61 billion Nepalese rupees (US$536.03 million), excluding late fees and fines for the capital gains tax on Ncell buyout deal following a Supreme Court ruling.
Philippine stocks fell 0.4%, hurt by losses in financial and telecom stocks. For the week the Manila benchmark index dropped 0.9%, marking its first weekly loss in 2019. PLDT Inc dropped 3.4%, while shares of Bank of the Philippine Islands slid 1.4%.
The Indonesian benchmark closed down 0.2%, with material and energy stocks leading declines. The index marked its first weekly loss in the new year, snapping a rally of six weeks. Charoen Pokphand Indonesia Tbk PT dropped 1.9%, while United Tractors Tbk PT slipped 2.9%.
Vietnam's financial markets remained closed this week for Lunar New Year holidays.
"SET drops 5.60 points, Malaysia shares lead Asean peers"
BANGKOK, February 7 -- The Stock Exchange of Thailand index dipped on Thursday, while Malaysia shares led the gains, as optimism over a trade deal between the United States and China were renewed following indications of further official talks in Beijing next week.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Wednesday that he and other US officials would travel to Beijing to continue trade talks, eyeing a deal before the March 2 deadline. China is the biggest trading partner of the region. With easing trade frictions, a dovish Fed and prospects of increased infrastructure spending, foreign investors are now returning to Southeast Asian markets, propelling these markets to record an upward trend for the most part. So far this year, foreign investors have been net buyers of stocks in markets such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.
The SET index eased 5.60 points or 0.34% to 1,653.11, in turnover of 50 billion baht. The index was dragged by consumer and health care stocks. Shares of Bangkok Dusit Medical Services Plc lost 30 satang or 1.27% to 23.30 baht and Siam Makro Plc dropped 1.25 baht or 3.29% to 36.75 baht.
The Malaysian benchmark rose 0.6%, leading gains in the region after thin trading in the region this week due to a two-day closure on account of the Chinese New Year. Utilities and consumer cyclicals boosted the Malaysian benchmark index, with Tenaga Nasional Bhd and Maxis Bhd climbing 3.7% and 2.5%, respectively.
The Singapore index gained 0.5% to its highest level since Jan 25, helped by telecom and industrial stocks. "Singapore equities has some catching up to do as the US markets have done well over the last two trading sessions. At the same time, traders are also placing bets ahead of the budget on February 18, 2019," said Liu Jinshu, head of research at Tayrona Financial Pte Ltd. Shares of Singapore Telecommunications Ltd gained 1% while those of Jardine Matheson Holdings Ltd firmed 1.3%.
The Philippine stock index climbed 0.5%, with gains concentrated in industrial stocks. SM Investments Corp and JG Summit Holdings Inc gained over 2% each. The Philippine central bank kept its benchmark interest rate steady for a second straight meeting on Thursday, saying inflation risk had fallen on lower crude oil and food prices. Indonesian stocks also ended the session slightly lower, hurt by consumer and financial stocks. Charoen Pokphand Indonesia Tbk PT slipped 2.8%, while Bank Central Asia Tbk PT slid 0.5%.
Vietnam financial markets remained closed for Chinese New Year holidays.
"Indonesia stocks end at 11-month high, SET adds 5 points"
BANGKOK, February 6 -- Indonesian stocks surged more than 1% to close at an 11-month high on Wednesday, after the country posted a faster-than- expected GDP growth in the fourth quarter of 2018, while Thai shares added 5.62 points to close above the 1,6500 mark.
Indonesia's gross domestic product (GDP) in the final quarter of 2018 expanded 5.18% from a year earlier, compared with 5.11% forecast in a Reuters poll, while for the year the economy grew 5.17%, marking its best in five years. The country's benchmark index ended 1.02% higher, its highest level since March 5, 2018. Telecom and material stocks were the biggest boost to the index, with Telekomunikasi Indonesia (Persero) Tbk Perusahaan Perseroan PT and Unilever Indonesia Tbk PT rising 2.1% and 2%, respectively.
The Stock Exchange of Thailand index gained 5.62 points or 0.34% to 1,658.71, in turnover of 38.5 billion baht. The index was driven by financial and material stocks and the Bank of Thailand's decision to hold benchmark interest rates steady. Kasikornbank Plc added 2 baht or 1% to 202 baht and Siam Commercial Bank Plc gained 2.50 baht or 1.89% to 135 baht. Shares of Siam Cement Group Plc firmed 6 baht or 1.29% to 470 baht.
Philippine index reversed course and slipped from 10-and-a-half-month high hit earlier in the session to close marginally lower. Industrial stocks dragged the index, with SM Investment Corp and JG Summit Holdings Inc slipping 1.7% and 3.7%, respectively. "I would say it (the reason for the fall) is profit taking for the lack of any news to suggest otherwise," said Charles William Ang, associate analyst at COL financial. He added that good inflation rates had pushed the index earlier in the day. The country's inflation had eased in the month of January, supporting views that the central bank would leave interest rates on hold on at its meeting on Thursday.
Malaysia, Vietnam and Singapore stock markets were closed for Lunar New Year holidays.