Australian woman escapes death sentence for drug trafficking
MALAYSIA - An Australian woman has been found not guilty of drug trafficking in Malaysia, a charge that carries a mandatory death sentence. On Wednesday afternoon a Malaysian judge found that Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto did not know that there were drugs in her bag when customs officials found 1.1kg of ice – a potent form of methamphetamine – in her luggage at Kuala Lumpur airport in December 2014. Exposto’s lawyer, Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, said the judge was convinced of her innocence after hearing his client did not try to bypass searches at the airport. “The judge described her as naive, not merely innocent but naive,” he told reporters on Wednesday. Earlier Exposto’s lawyers had said their client would have been given a mandatory sentence of death by hanging if she was found guilty in the Malaysian high court. The prosecution agreed after the verdict that Exposto could be deported to Australia. A grandmother and mother of four from Sydney, Exposto was arrested in December 2014 at Kuala Lumpur airport en route from Shanghai to Australia. Farhan Shafee, one of Exposto’s lawyers, said his client was the “victim of an internet romance scam”, most likely from west Africa. Exposto’s lawyers said her behaviour before the arrest suggested she was “a victim” rather than a trafficker. Despite being able to remain in the transit area of the airport before her connecting flight to Australia, Exposto unnecessarily passed through customs and willingly approached officials to have her bags checked.
“Unlike in Australia, in Malaysia customs doesn’t check everyone, so they would do a random selection as you pass through. But Maria voluntarily went and put her bag on the x-ray machine,” Shafee said. Malaysia has a mandatory death penalty by hanging for anyone found guilty of carrying more than 50 grams of a drug.
In August the Malaysian government agreed to scrap the mandatory death penalty for drug traffickers by giving judges the discretion to give a life sentence in prison. However the change is yet to be ratified, and Exposto’s lawyers warned she faced a mandatory death sentence if convicted. Three Australian nationals have been executed by the state: Michael McAuliffe in 1993, and Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers in 1986.
Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto (left) faced a mandatory death sentence. (Photo: Reuters)