Australian woman in Malaysia drug case was duped in romance scam: Lawyer

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - An Australian mother of four charged in Malaysia with the capital crime of drug trafficking was duped into carrying the drugs after falling for an online romance scam, her lawyer said on Friday.

Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto, 52, was arrested on December 7 after arriving at Kuala Lumpur International Airport en route from Shanghai to Melbourne.

A routine customs check discovered a hidden compartment in a bag she carried, which contained 1.5 kg of suspected crystal methamphetamine, or "ice". She was charged on December 19.

Exposto has denied knowledge of the drugs, saying she accepted a bag that she thought contained only clothing from a stranger who asked her to take it to Melbourne.

One of her lawyers, Tania Scivetti, said Exposto had become involved in an online romance with a person claiming to be a US serviceman.

She travelled to Shanghai to meet him, only to discover that another person had been posing as her supposed love interest. It was there that she was tricked into carrying the drugs, Scivetti said.

"Basically she had been duped into believing she was going to see him, but instead she was duped into becoming a (drug) mule," Scivetti said.

Scivetti provided no further details.

Drug trafficking carries a mandatory sentence of death by hanging upon conviction in Muslim-majority Malaysia.

Anyone with at least 50g of "ice" is considered a trafficker, subject to the death penalty.

Exposto originally hails from East Timor but has been an Australian citizen since 1985, her lawyers have said.

She appeared in a court outside Kuala Lumpur on Friday for the scheduled presentation of test results on the substance found in the bag, but the court was told the chemist's report was not yet ready. A new date was set for February 27.

The defence is yet to enter a plea as the court now handling the case has no jurisdiction over death-penalty cases. The case is expected to be moved up to a higher court.

Hundreds of Malaysians and foreigners are on death row, many for drug-related offences, though few have been executed in recent years.

Two Australians were hanged in 1986 for heroin trafficking - the first Westerners executed in Malaysia - in a case that strained bilateral relations.

Last year, Dominic Bird, a truck driver from Perth, was acquitted of trafficking after he was allegedly caught with 167 grams of crystal meth.