SEPANG, Malaysia (AFP) – An Australian woman who was arrested entering Malaysia with crystal methamphetamine is innocent and was only carrying a bag for a stranger, a lawyer seeking to spare her the death penalty said Monday.
The woman, Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto, 51, was arrested on December 7 after arriving at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in transit from Shanghai to Melbourne.
Malaysia’s customs chief said Monday a search of her bag as she attempted to leave the airport revealed 1.5 kilogrammes (52 oz) of crystal methamphetamine, or “ice”, stitched into a secret compartment.
Anyone with at least 50 grammes of the drug is considered a trafficker in Muslim-majority Malaysia, which imposes a mandatory sentence of death by hanging upon conviction.
Attorney Tania Scivetti said her client was “duped into carrying the bag” by an African man who asked her to take it to Melbourne.
She added that the suspect was not attempting to enter Malaysia, but was unfamiliar with the airport and had merely followed a crowd toward immigration.
“She is okay, but very confused,” Scivetti said.
“With the facts I have at the moment, this is not an easy case but a do-able one.”
The defendant was expected to appear in court to be charged on Thursday or Friday.
Australian media have said the alleged drug mule is a mother of four from the Sydney area.
Scivetti said she is an unemployed former factory worker.
Hundreds of people are on death row in Malaysia, 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 to be executed in Malaysia – in a case that strained bilateral relations.
Last year, Dominic Bird, a truck driver from Perth, was acquitted on drug trafficking charges after he was allegedly caught with 167 grammes of crystal meth.
His legal team – which included Scivetti – argued that a government chemist had made a mistake when analysing what Bird carried.