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Australian sentenced to death in Malaysia drugs case

May 24, 2018

FILE - In this Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017, file photo, Australian Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto, center, is escorted by police during a court hearing at Shah Alam High Court in Shah Alam, Malaysia. Exposto's lawyer, Thursday, May 24, 2018, says her client has been sentenced to death after an appeals court overturned a lower court's acquittal. (AP Photo/Sadiq Asyraf, File)

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — An Australian woman accused of drug trafficking in Malaysia was sentenced to death after an appeals court on Thursday overturned a lower court’s acquittal, her lawyer said.

Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto was exonerated by the High Court last December on grounds that she didn’t know there were 1.5 kilograms (3.3 pounds) of crystal methamphetamine in her bag when she was arrested in December 2014 at Kuala Lumpur’s international airport. The prosecution appealed.

Exposto had claimed that she went to Shanghai to meet a U.S. serviceman with whom she had an online romance, and had been asked to carry a bag full of clothes. She said she was unaware that the bag also contained drugs.

Exposto’s lawyer Tania Scivetti said a three-member appeals court “found there was merit” in the prosecution’s appeal, though it didn’t say on what grounds. She said Exposto was shocked but calm.

“It’s disappointing as there was clear evidence that she was the victim of an Internet romance scam. She was a drug mule,” Scivetti told The Associated Press, adding that they have appealed to Malaysia’s top court.

Malaysia has a mandatory death sentence for anyone found guilty of carrying more than 50 grams of a prohibited drug.

Exposto, a 54-year-old mother of four from Sydney and also a grandmother, had arrived from Shanghai and was to catch a connecting flight to Melbourne when she was detained in Malaysia. The drugs were discovered when she put two bags through the security scanner when exiting the airport.

After her acquittal in December, Scivetti said Exposto was immediately arrested by immigration officials as her visa has expired. Following the prosecution’s appeal, she remained in custody as she couldn’t afford to pay bail.

Three Australians have been hanged for drug offenses in Malaysia since 1986.

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