Malaysia court sentences Australian woman to death for drug-trafficking

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - A Malaysian court on Thursday sentenced to death by hanging an Australian mother of three, for trafficking more than a kilogram of crystal methamphetamine into the Southeast Asian nation, but her lawyer said she was appealing.

Prosecutors had sought the appeals court conviction, which overturned the earlier acquittal of Maria Exposto, 54, of charges of smuggling the drugs in a backpack in Dec. 2014, after she said she was duped in an online scam.

Tania Scivetti, a lawyer representing Exposto, who hails from Sydney, said her team had filed an appeal in a federal court.

"We are extremely disappointed," Scivetti told Reuters by text message. "Maria is a victim of an internet romance scam. She is not a drug trafficker."

Exposto, arrested in Kuala Lumpur while in transit to Melbourne from Shanghai, has said she was decoyed into carrying the bag with the drugs by a friend of her online boyfriend, who claimed to be a U.S. soldier serving in Afghanistan.

Malaysia, like other countries in Southeast Asia, imposes harsh penalties for drug offences. Late last year, parliament voted to remove the death penalty as mandatory punishment for drug trafficking, and leave it to judges' discretion instead.

Malaysia has executed three Australian nationals for drug trafficking in the past 30 years, leading to brief strains in diplomatic ties between the two countries.

(Reporting by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)