Malaysian prosecutors appeal against Australian grandmother's acquittal

Bangkok: An Australian grandmother acquitted of drugs charges in Malaysia will not be allowed to return home for months after prosecutors lodged an appeal against the verdict.

Malaysia's High Court found on Wednesday that 54-year-old Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto was the victim of an online romance scam when she unwittingly flew into Kuala Lumpur's international airport from Shanghai with 1.1 kilograms of methamphetamine in her luggage in December 2014 .

But Exposto's hopes of returning to her family in Sydney for the new year were crushed when prosecutors announced the appeal.

Earlier they had asked the court to order her deportation.

Exposto would have faced mandatory execution if convicted on the drugs charges, despite lawmakers in Kuala Lumpur voting only weeks ago to give judges discretionary powers in individual cases.

The new law, passed in the Malaysian Parliament on November 30, would not have saved her because it has not yet been formally gazetted.

Defence lawyers say Exposto, a mother of four from Cabramatta in Sydney, was the victim of a sophisticated romance scam that has entrapped thousands of people. She fell for the scam after building an online relationship with a supposed US soldier and Afghanistan veteran.

Exposto told the court she was lured into carrying a bag from Shanghai to Melbourne - transiting in Kuala Lumpur - which she believed to contain only clothing by a supposed acquaintance of the soldier.

A judge said he found Exposto had no knowledge of the drugs in the bag, rejecting a prosecution submission that her story about the love scam was an afterthought.

The judge said he believed Exposto's love for the online scammer was genuine and that they been in contact for two years.

After the acquittal, Exposto was sent back to jail on Wednesday night.

Lawyers said her passport had expired while she was awaiting trial and they would apply for another from the Australian embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

Defence lawyer Shafee Abdullah told reporters after the verdict the case was "clear cut". He said there was overwhelming evidence she was tricked into carrying the bag.

A spokeswoman from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it was continuing to provide consular assistance to a woman detained in Malaysia and her family.

It would not comment on whether the federal government was making representations to Malaysian authorities to get Exposto to return to Australia after being found not guilty.

Leaving the court on Wednesday after the verdict, Exposto's son Hugo said: "I am very happy."

The story Malaysian prosecutors appeal against Australian grandmother's acquittal first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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