AN Australian grandmother escaped the death penalty on Wednesday after a Malaysian court found her not guilty of drug trafficking.
Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto, 54, was found with more than 1kg of methamphetamine in her backpack while in transit in Kuala Lumpur en route to Melbourne from Shanghai in December 2014.
Under Malaysian law, anyone found guilty of possessing more than 50g of illegal drugs is considered a trafficker and faces a mandatory death penalty.
The law was amended last month to do away with the mandatory death sentence, allowing judges to use their own discretion. But the changes have not yet come into effect.
Exposto’s lawyers said she was the victim of an Internet romance scam and was lured into carrying a bag containing drugs unknowingly by a friend of her online boyfriend.
“I agreed with the defence’s argument that the accused had no knowledge of the drugs that were in her bag,” Judge Ghazali Cha said on Wednesday.
Exposto’s conduct during her arrest showed “she was naive and her behaviour was that of an innocent person,” he said.
Australian woman Maria Exposto arrives at court in Malaysia for the verdict and sentencing on drug trafficking charges. This is a death penalty case. pic.twitter.com/vO0omvjFCt
— Adam Harvey (@adharves) December 27, 2017
According to News.com.au, her online lover who identified himself as “Captain Daniel Smith,” claimed to be a US soldier stationed in Afghanistan.
Exposto earlier testified a friend of “Smith” asked her to take the bag to Melbourne from Shanghai as a last minute request at the airport.
Exposto was quoted as saying:
“He (Smith) made me feel loved, he made me feel wanted.”
“Smith would sing to me a few times a day and send love poems as well.”
The judge referred Exposto to Malaysia’s immigration department for deportation.
“I’m happy now that I’m free,” Exposto said in brief comments to reporters.
Three Australian nationals have been executed by Malaysia for drug trafficking: Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers in 1986, and Michael McAuliffe in 1993.
Additional reporting by Reuters