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Malaysian court acquits Australian woman facing death penalty for drug trafficking

Malaysian court acquits Australian woman facing death penalty for drug trafficking
Australian Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto gestures as she leaves following her acquiting at the Federal Court in Putrajaya, Malaysia, November 26, 2019. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng Copyright LIM HUEY TENG(Reuters)
Copyright LIM HUEY TENG(Reuters)
By Reuters
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KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - An Australian woman sentenced to death for drug-trafficking in Malaysia was acquitted on Tuesday after the Federal Court in Kuala Lumpur quashed her earlier conviction by a lower court.

Maria Exposto, 55, was arrested in the Malaysian capital in 2014 while in transit to Melbourne from Shanghai, and in May last year she was found guilty of smuggling more than a kilogramme of crystal metamphetamine.

Though Exposto was sentenced to hang, the government has currently placed a moratorium on executions while it reforms legislation to remove the mandatory death penalty for drug and other offences.

Exposto had maintained that she was duped into carrying the bag with the drugs by a friend of her online boyfriend, who claimed to be a U.S. soldier serving in Afghanistan.

"She is innocent. We always believed she is innocent," Shafee Abdullah, Exposto's lawyer, told reporters outside the court after the ruling.

"This judgement has a high impact. It will be an eye opener for judges ... This is an illustration, how an innocent woman can be scammed on the internet," Shafee said.

Shafee said immigration authorities would hold Exposto in custody for a couple of days until her visa to Australia is approved.

Malaysia has executed three Australian nationals for drug trafficking in the past 30 years, causing brief strains in diplomatic ties between the two countries.

(Reporting by Joseph Sipalan; Editing Simon Cameron-Moore)

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