Australia

Sydney woman Maria Exposto arrives home after escaping death penalty in Malaysia

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A Sydney grandmother has arrived in Sydney after she was cleared by Malaysia's highest court of drug trafficking charges and escaped the death penalty.

A Sydney woman who spent nearly five years in a Malaysian jail on drug trafficking charges, including 18 months on death row, has arrived in Australia. 

Maria Exposto, 55, had been sentenced to death by hanging for trafficking more than 1 kilogram of the illicit drug crystal methamphetamine, but was acquitted by the Federal Appeal Court of Malaysia on Tuesday.

The judges agreed with her lawyers that she was the victim of an online romance scam and did not know the drugs were in her bag. 

Ms Exposto hugged her son at Sydney airport after touching down on Friday morning. 

Maria Exposto arrives at Sydney International airport.
Maria Exposto arrives at Sydney International airport.
AAP

"I am very happy," she told reporters. "I'm going to sleep like an angel. Like a little baby."

She thanked her family for their support during her five-year ordeal, adding that she planned to go straight to the cemetery to visit her mother's grave. 

Her son Hugo earlier this week said his family was delighted with the decision and they "had just tried to take it one day at a time and do everything we can" throughout the five-year ordeal.

According to defence lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, Ms Exposto fell prey to an internet romance scam initiated by a man who identified himself as "Captain Daniel Smith".

Maria Exposto arrives at Sydney International airport for an emotional reunion with her sister Rosa and brother John and extended family.
Maria Exposto arrives at Sydney International airport for an emotional reunion with her sister Rosa and brother John and extended family.
AAP

The man said he was a US soldier stationed in Afghanistan, a widower whose wife had died in a car accident and the father of a teenage son.

Mr Abdullah said the scam had lasted a couple of years and Ms Exposto had sent money to "Smith" before flying to Shanghai, China, in 2014. They intended to meet there, where he could request her help lodging documents for his retirement from the military.

"Smith" did not show up in China but an American who claimed to be his friend did.

Shortly before her scheduled departure, he asked her to take a black backpack, which Ms Exposto believed contained clothes, to Melbourne.

Drugs were found in the bag after Ms Exposto landed in Kuala Lumpur in transit on her way home to Sydney in December 2014.

Maria Exposto arrives at Sydney International airport.
Maria Exposto arrives at Sydney International airport.
AAP

She volunteered the bag for a search after a scan at the airport revealed "something green" and 1.5 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine was found.

She was acquitted by the High Court in December 2017 after the judge found she was scammed by her online boyfriend and was unaware she was carrying the drugs. However, the prosecution appealed the verdict.

In May 2018, an appeal court overturned the acquittal and Ms Exposto was sentenced to death by hanging for drug trafficking.

Malaysia has a mandatory death sentence for anyone found guilty of carrying more than 50 grams of a prohibited drug.

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