Australian in Malaysia drugs case out on bail as prosecutors appeal

Police officers escorting Australian Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto to a court in Shah Alam, Kuala Lumpur, on Dec 27, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

PUTRAJAYA (AFP) - An Australian grandmother who was cleared of drug-trafficking in Malaysia last month and escaped the death penalty - but had to remain in the country as prosecutors appealed her acquittal - was Thursday (Jan 11) released on bail.

Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto was arrested in 2014 at Kuala Lumpur airport with a stash of crystal methamphetamine stitched into the compartment of a backpack she was carrying.

The 54-year-old was cleared after a lengthy legal process, but she was not released and allowed to fly back to Australia initially as she no longer held valid travel documents.

Prosecutors then appealed the acquittal, meaning she has to stay in Malaysia until the challenge is complete.

The mother of four escaped being hanged after arguing she did not know about the hidden stash of "ice" and had been tricked into carrying it from China by someone posing as a US serviceman in an online love scam.

The judge would have been compelled to hand down the death penalty if she was convicted, as anyone guilty of trafficking certain amounts of illegal narcotics into Malaysia automatically faces capital punishment.

Exposto had remained in prison since her acquittal but at an appeal court hearing in the administrative capital Putrajaya, Judge Mohamad Zawawi Salleh ruled she could be freed on bail of RM30,000(S$10,000).

He rejected an objection from prosecutors who argued she might flee the country.

Her lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah criticised the prosecutors' appeal as a "waste of time".

"If they withdraw the appeal, it will bring an end to Exposto's misery," he said.

Exposto had travelled to Shanghai to see someone she met online who called himself "Captain Daniel Smith".

But she did not succeed in meeting her supposed love interest while there and ended up being given a bag by a stranger, who asked her to take it to Melbourne.

When she arrived at Kuala Lumpur International Airport to change flights, she mistakenly went through immigration as she was unfamiliar with the airport.

She voluntarily offered her bags for customs inspection and the drugs were discovered.

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