November 26, 2019 / 5:25 AM / 20 days ago

Malaysian court acquits Australian woman facing death penalty for drug trafficking

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - An Australian woman sentenced to death for drug-trafficking in Malaysia was acquitted on Tuesday after the Federal Court in Kuala Lumpur quashed her earlier conviction by a lower court.

Maria Exposto, 55, was arrested in the Malaysian capital in 2014 while in transit to Melbourne from Shanghai, and in May last year she was found guilty of smuggling more than a kilogramme of crystal methamphetamine.

Though Exposto was sentenced to hang, the government has currently placed a moratorium on executions while it reforms legislation to remove the mandatory death penalty for drug and other offences.

Her son Hugo Exposto spoke to reporters outside the court after the panel of five judges decided his mother should be released.

“All I want to do is just run down and take her home,” he said.

Exposto had maintained that she was duped into carrying the bag with the drugs by a friend of her online boyfriend, who claimed to be a U.S. soldier serving in Afghanistan.

“She is innocent. We always believed she is innocent,” Shafee Abdullah, Exposto’s lawyer, told reporters outside the court after the ruling.

“This is an illustration, how an innocent woman can be scammed on the internet,” Shafee said.

Shafee said Exposto was applying to immigration authorities for a special exit pass - as she her transit visa had long expired - following her release, and she expected to leave for Australia on Wednesday.

Malaysia has executed three Australian nationals for drug trafficking in the past 30 years, causing brief strains in diplomatic ties between the two countries.

Reporting by Joseph Sipalan; Editing Simon Cameron-Moore

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