Sydney grandmother who says she was catfished by drug ring avoids execution in Malaysia

Sydney grandmother who says she was catfished by drug ring avoids execution in Malaysia

Updated

November 26, 2019 17:19:59

Australian woman Maria Exposto, who claims she was duped into carrying drugs through Kuala Lumpur Airport by an international drug ring posing online as a US Army captain, has had her death sentence overturned by Malaysia’s Federal Court.

Key points:

  • Malaysia’s Federal Court accepted Maria Exposto fell victim to a romance scam
  • Ms Exposto was lured to China and convinced to carry a backpack through Malaysia
  • It is believed she was the victim of global crime network with operatives in Australia and Ghana

The Sydney grandmother was sentenced to be hanged last year after she was convicted of trafficking more than 1.1 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine in 2014.

There was an audible sigh of relief from her supporters in the courtroom when the five judges delivered their verdict, while Ms Exposto smiled.

The 55-year-old has maintained that she fell victim to an online romance scam, and believed she was engaged to “Captain Daniel Smith”, a widowed US Special Forces soldier stationed in Afghanistan.

Her emails show she was lured to Shanghai in 2014 to sign her online lover’s army retirement papers so they could get married.

She testified that in China, a man who claimed to be Captain Smith’s army friend handed her the papers and convinced her to carry a bag of Christmas presents back to Australia.

During her transit through Kuala Lumpur Airport, she mistakenly followed exiting passengers and volunteered the backpack to customs officers.

They found the drugs stitched into the lining and placed her under arrest.

Ms Exposto, who is from Cabramatta in Sydney’s west, was initially found not guilty in a lower court, but prosecutors appealed and won.

Her lawyer, Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, said the judges who convicted her failed to recognise his client was the victim of a scam.

“Judges are a very conservative lot. They will not readily recognise what is in the internet world, what is, in fact, an internet scam,” he said.

He told the court that Ms Exposto’s behaviour at Kuala Lumpur Airport had been naive, and when the customs officer said she had ice in her bag, she had replied that the ice would have melted.

She could be released as soon as Wednesday after the Federal Court accepted that she was used as an unwitting drug mule.

Her son, Hugo Pinto Exposto, said she has missed “a lot of precious moments” after nearly five years behind bars.

“It’ll be overwhelming for her to come back home. All I want to do is just take her home, take her away, and just catch her up on all the things she’s missed,” he said.

‘I was blindly in love with Daniel’

The former anti-human trafficking worker told the ABC’s Four Corners program earlier this year that she had been communicating regularly with a man she believed to be Captain Smith.

They spoke by phone and email for more than a year between 2013 and 2014.

“I was blindly in love with Daniel. Every day he would sing love songs to me five times a day. He made me fall in love with him,” she said.

In reality, the global crime syndicate was sending her stolen photos and videos of a retired British naval officer.

When she went to Shanghai and met the man who claimed to be Captain Smith’s colleague, Ms Exposto told the court she was reluctant to carry the bag he gave her.

But she said the man emptied the bag and showed her there was nothing but clothing inside.

The expert defence witness in her Malaysian trial, Professor Monica Whitty from the University of Melbourne, said Ms Exposto was a “textbook romance scam victim”.

“I didn’t make up my mind until I went through all the data available and until I interviewed Maria. She didn’t have to have her bags checked. She volunteered,” she said.

Topics:

law-crime-and-justice,

drug-offences,

courts-and-trials,

internet-culture,

malaysia

First posted

November 26, 2019 15:12:25

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