A Sydney mother has avoided a mandatory death sentence after being found not guilty of smuggling crystal methamphetamine into Malaysia.
The not guilty verdict in the trial of Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto was handed down on Wednesday in Malaysia’s High Court.
The 54-year-old claimed she was the victim of a set-up after she was found with more than a kilogram of methamphetamine in her bag after arriving in Kuala Lumpur on a flight from China in 2014.
The judge on Wednesday found that an online boyfriend had scammed her and she was acquitted of the charges against her.
Ms 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.
The prosecution agreed after the verdict that the mother of four could be deported to Australia.
Exposto’s lawyers have previously said the Australian mum fell victim to an internet romance scam and she believed she was in Shanghai to lodge documents for her online boyfriend’s retirement from service in the US army.
She claimed she was handed the black backpack at the last minute and thought there were only clothes inside.
Customs officials noticed an item inside that appeared “green” during scans of Exposto’s belongings at Kuala Lumpur airport.
Upon closer inspection, they found odd pink and brown stitching at the back of the backpack.
When they opened the stitching, grey packages were inside, customs official Mohd Noor Nashariq told the Shah Alam High Court last year.
But it was Exposto’s willingness to go through the customs checkpoints, Muhammad Shafee Abdullah said on Wednesday, that showed the judge she was unaware she was carrying drugs.
“It was almost as though she asked for trouble as a trafficker,” he said, noting she was not required to go through the checkpoints.
“But because she was not a trafficker – she was an innocent carrier tricked into carrying a bag – she did all these innocent things.”
Malaysia is amending laws that no longer bind judges to hand down mandatory death sentences for drug mules. But that law has not yet been gazetted and therefore Exposto would have faced a mandatory death sentence if convicted.