Australian woman sentenced to death for alleged drug smuggling in Malaysia

Posted May 26, 2018

An appeal court in Malaysia has sentenced Sydney grandmother Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto to death by hanging after overturning her earlier acquittal on drug smuggling charges.

Exposto, 54, was arrested in December 2014 in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur on her way home to Sydney from Shanghai.

A prime target for smugglers, the naïve, lonely-hearted woman says was convinced to carry a backpack she was told contained only clothes to go and meet her online paramour, a man named Captain Daniel Smith.

Exposto, a mother of four, said she had no idea she was carrying the drugs.

But prosecutors filed an appeal this year and the courts overturned her acquittal.

"It's disappointing as there was clear evidence that she was the victim of an Internet romance scam".

Convinced that she was indeed duped into being a would-be drugs mule, judge Dato' Ghazali had ruled that she was not guilty, and subsequently she was referred to Malaysia's Immigration department to be deported back to Australia.

Malaysian courts had initially acquitted the grandmother, after her lawyer successfully argued that Exposto was the victim of an online scam.

Ms Exposto's lawyer Shafee Abdullah today told the court her client would exercise her right for a further appeal.

She was acquitted after the judge found she was scammed by her online boyfriend and was unaware she was carrying the drugs.

"I'm happy now that I'm free", Exposto said at the time, according to AFP.

Last year, Malaysian lawmakers voted to abolish mandatory death sentences for drug offenses and did not execute anyone for drug-related offenses that year, according to Harm Reduction International, a nongovernmental organization partly funded by the European Union that tracks death-penalty laws for drug offenses globally.

In a statement on Thursday Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said "Australia opposes the death penalty in all circumstances for all people" and Exposto would continue to receive full Australian consular assistance.

"I don't think she probably even knew what ice was, to be honest", she said.

The lawyers claimed she did not know the drugs were there, saying she had "never seen drugs in her life", and volunteered her bag to be scanned by an airport X-ray machine.

Diplomatic relations between the two countries have been strained since Malaysia hanged three Australians convicted of drug smuggling within the past three decades: twice in 1986 and again in 1993.