Malaysia sets Aussie grandma free in rare drug trafficking case

AFP
A Malaysian court yesterday cleared of trafficking an Australian grandmother who said she was tricked into carrying drugs into the country after falling for an online romance.
AFP
Reuters

Australian Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto leaves following her release at the High Court in Shah Alam, outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, yesterday.

A Malaysian court yesterday cleared of trafficking an Australian grandmother who said she was tricked into carrying drugs into the country after falling for an online romance. Smuggling drugs is a crime punishable by death in Malaysia.

Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto wept and hugged her son after being found not guilty of smuggling crystal methamphetamine, a rare outcome in a country where hundreds of people have been sentenced to death for drugs offenses in recent years.

“I’m happy now that I’m free,” said the 54-year-old, as she was ushered out of the courtroom after the verdict.

But prosecutors have indicated they want to appeal the acquittal, her lawyer said, meaning Exposto will not be able to go back home yet and there is still a chance she could be sentenced to death.

She was arrested in December 2014 while in transit at Kuala Lumpur airport with 1.1 kilos of drug stitched into the compartment of a backpack she was carrying.

The mother of four argued she didn’t know about the hidden stash of “ice.” She said she had been fooled into carrying the bag after traveling to China to see someone she met online called “Captain Daniel Smith,” who claimed to be a US serviceman.

Anyone caught with at least 50 grams of crystal meth is considered a trafficker in Muslim-majority Malaysia, and death by hanging is mandatory in the case of a conviction.

However handing down his verdict at the High Court in Shah Alam, Judge Ghazali Cha accepted the defense’s argument that Exposto did not know the bag contained drugs and acquitted her.

“I agree with the defense lawyer that the accused did not have knowledge about the drugs,” the judge said.

“I believe that at that time her (Exposto) feelings of love towards ‘Captain Daniel Smith’ overcame everything, including her own husband, her family and her future.”

After engaging in a long online romance, Exposto traveled to Shanghai to see “Smith.” But she did not succeed in meeting her supposed love interest while there and ended up being given a bag by a stranger, who asked her to take it to Melbourne.

When she arrived at KL International Airport to change flights, she mistakenly went through immigration as she was unfamiliar with the airport. She voluntarily offered her bags for customs inspection and the drugs were discovered.

There are at least 900 people on death row in Malaysia, officials have said, but executions have been rare in recent years.

Malaysian lawmakers voted last year to amend legislation so that capital punishment is no longer mandatory in drug-trafficking cases. But the changes have not yet come into force yet as they must be passed by the upper house, meaning Exposto may still face death sentence.


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