An Australian woman has been found not guilty of drug trafficking in Malaysia, a charge that carries a mandatory death sentence.
On Wednesday afternoon a Malaysian judge found that Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto did not know that there were drugs in her bag when customs officials found 1.1kg of ice – a potent form of methamphetamine – in her luggage at Kuala Lumpur airport in December 2014.
Lawyers for Exposto said their client would have been given a mandatory sentence of death by hanging if she was found guilty in the Malaysian high court.
The prosecution agreed after the verdict that Exposto could be deported to Australia.
A grandmother and mother of four from Sydney, Exposto was arrested in December 2014 at Kuala Lumpur airport en route from Shanghai to Australia.
But her lawyers argued Exposto was the victim of an online romance scam and believed she was in Shanghai to collect documents for her online boyfriend’s retirement from service in the US army to take to an embassy in Australia.
Farhan Shafee, one of Exposto’s lawyers, said his client was the “victim of an internet romance scam”, most likely from west Africa.
“When she was in Australia, Maria developed an online relationship with someone who she thought and perceived to be a captain in US army, stationed in Afghanistan,” Shafee told the Guardian.
“This relationship developed for [about] a year, and during that time she’d given money to this online presence, believing that once he was discharged from the military they would be united and live happy ever after together in Australia.”
Exposto said that before leaving Shanghai she was handed the bag containing the drugs by a friend of her online boyfriend’s and only saw clothes inside. But 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…