An Australian grandmother has been sentenced to death by hanging in Malaysia on drug smuggling charges, but says she was duped into it by an online boyfriend.
Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto, 54, from Sydney, was caught with methamphetamine in her bag as she caught a connecting flight to Melbourne in 2014.
The grandmother and mother-of-four told officials she was on her way back from Shangahi where she met a U.S. serviceman with whom she had an online romance.
She claims she was asked to carry a bag full of clothes, but was unaware it also contained 1.5kg of crystal meth.
Exposto was initially found cleared of any wrongdoing but on Thrsday an appeals court overturned the verdict and sentenced her to death.
Australian grandmother Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto (white shirt) has been sentenced to death in Malaysia on drug smuggling charges
The mother-of-four was caught with 1.5kg of crystal meth in her bag in an Malaysian airport
Exposto was initially found cleared of any wrongdoing but on Thrsday an appeals court overturned the verdict and sentenced her to death
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 said, adding that they have appealed to Malaysia’s top court.
Malaysia has a mandatory death sentence for anyone found guilty of carrying more than 50g of a prohibited drug.
The prosecution in the appeal argued Exposto had been wilfully blind, that her defence was made up and she had engaged in a ‘sly game’.
Shafee responded, telling the court that Exposto was an innocent carrier hoodwinked by an internet romance scam.
After her acquittal in December last year, Scivetti said Exposto was immediately arrested by immigration officials as her visa has expired. Following the prosecution’s appeal, she remained in custody because she couldn’t afford to pay bail.
Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto, 54, has been sentenced to death by hanging
The grandmother and mother-of-four told officials she was on her way back from Shangahi where she met a U.S. serviceman with whom she had an online romance
Australian grandmother Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto pictured in court in 2017
Exposto was handcuffed in court where she was consoled by her lawyers and Australian Embassy officials after the verdict.
She had claimed she was the victim of a set-up after she was found with the drugs in her bag after arriving on a flight from China in 2014.
Exposto’s lawyer, Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, told her Thursday’s sentencing was a temporary setback and ‘you will win and you will walk away’ following a further appeal.
He said a new appeal will be lodged in the Federal Court on Friday.
‘It’s the most shocking decision ever,’ Shafee said.
Australian Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto arrives at the magistrates court in Sepang, near Kuala Lumpur on January 23, 2015
She had claimed she was the victim of a set-up after she was found with the drugs in her bag after arriving on a flight from China in 2014 (she is pictured in 2015)
She claims she was asked to carry a bag full of clothes, but was unaware it also contained 1.5kg of crystal meth
‘It’s a perverse judgment, no reasons were provided. The High Court judge examined every detail in the evidence and in today’s decision they simply reversed the decision without reason and sentenced her to death.’
He also said there remains the prospect that the case could become politicised given the return of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad to the helm of Malaysian politics.
Relations between Australia and Malaysia soured under Mahathir amid the hanging of Australian drug runners Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers in 1986.
‘That’s a danger because Mahathir still holds a peculiar view of Australia,’ Shafee said.
In a statement on Thursday evening Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said ‘Australia opposes the death penalty in all circumstances for all people’.
She said the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade would continue to provide full consular assistance to Ms Exposto in Malaysia following the overturning of her acquittal and imposition of the death sentence.
Australian national Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto (white shirt) is escorted by Malaysian customs officials as she arrives at the Magistrate Court in Sepang on April 30, 2015
On December 27 last year Exposto was acquitted of drug trafficking but faced a prosecution appeal against the acquittal on charges of trafficking 1.5kg of methamphetamine into Malaysia