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.

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Maria Exposto's drug trafficking case in Malaysia
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Maria Exposto's drug trafficking case in Malaysia
Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto (L), 54, is escorted upon her arrival at the Shah Alam High Court ahead of the verdict in her drugs conviction in Shah Alam, outside Kuala Lumpur, on December 27, 2017. Exposto was arrested in December 2014 at Kuala Lumpur airport with 1.5 kilograms (3.3 pounds) of the drugs stitched into the compartment of a backpack she was carrying. / AFP PHOTO / MOHD RASFAN (Photo credit should read MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto (C), is escorted upon her departure from the Shah Alam High Court after she was cleared of drug trafficking charges in Shah Alam, outside Kuala Lumpur, on December 27, 2017. An Australian grandmother who said she was tricked into smuggling drugs into Malaysia after falling for an online romance scam was on December 27 cleared of trafficking, a crime punishable by death. / AFP PHOTO / Mohd RASFAN (Photo credit should read MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Australian national Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto (C) is escorted by a Malaysian custom official as she arrives at the Magistrate Court in Sepang on April 30, 2015. An Australian woman faces a possible death sentence for drug trafficking in Malaysia after a prosecutor said on April 30 a chemist's report confirmed the substance found in her bag was crystal methamphetamine. AFP PHOTO / MOHD RASFAN (Photo credit should read MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto, 52, (C) is escorted by a Malaysian customs officer as she leaves the Magistrate Court in Sepang, near Kuala Lumpur on January 23, 2015. An Australian mother of four charged in Malaysia with the capital crime of drug trafficking was duped into carrying the drugs after falling for an online romance scam, her lawyer said on January 23. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto, 52, (2nd, L) is escorted by Malaysian customs officers as she arrives at the Magistrate Court in Sepang, outside Kuala Lumpur on February 27, 2015. An Australian mother of four charged in Malaysia with the capital crime of drug trafficking was duped into carrying the drugs after falling for an online romance scam, her lawyer said on January 23. AFP PHOTO / MOHD RASFAN (Photo credit should read MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto, 51, (C) walks after leaving her lawyer's room at the Magistrate Court in Sepang, outside Kuala Lumpur on December 19, 2014. 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 on December 15. AFP PHOTO / MOHD RASFAN (Photo credit should read MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto, 51, arrives at the Magistrate Court in Sepang, outside Kuala Lumpur on December 19, 2014. 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 on December 15. AFP PHOTO / MOHD RASFAN (Photo credit should read MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto, 51, smiles as she walks after leaving her lawyer's room at the Magistrate Court in Sepang, outside Kuala Lumpur on December 19, 2014. An Australian mother-of-four was charged in Malaysia with the capital crime of drug trafficking on December 19, but her lawyers insisted she was innocently duped into carrying a bag that appeared to contain only clothing. AFP PHOTO / MOHD RASFAN (Photo credit should read MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Australian national Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto (L) is escorted by a Malaysian policewoman as she arrives for her trial at the Shah Alam court in Shah Alam on September 5, 2017. Exposto is facing a possible death sentence for drug trafficking, if convicted , after being arrested in 2014 at Kuala Lumpur airport with 1.1 kilograms (2.4 pounds) of crystal methamphetamine drug. / AFP PHOTO / MANAN VATSYAYANA (Photo credit should read MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images)
Australian woman Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto (C) is escorted by Malaysian customs officials as she arrives at the Magistrate Court in Sepang on March 26, 2015. The case of an Australian woman facing a possible death sentence for drug trafficking in Malaysia was delayed again on March 26, with a lawyer describing the defendant as frustrated with the repeated postponements. AFP PHOTO / MANAN VATSYAYANA (Photo credit should read MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images)
Australian Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto leaves the magistrates court in Sepang, near Kuala Lumpur, January 23, 2015. She may face the death penalty after she was arrested for carrying crystal methamphetamine into Malaysia, local media reports. REUTERS/Olivia Harris (MALAYSIA - Tags: CRIME LAW)
Australian Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto arrives at the magistrates court in Sepang, near Kuala Lumpur, January 23, 2015. She may face the death penalty after she was arrested for carrying crystal methamphetamine into Malaysia, local media reports. REUTERS/Olivia Harris (MALAYSIA - Tags: CRIME LAW)
Hugo Pinto Exposto, son of Australian Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto, arrives at a court in Shah Alam, outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia December 27, 2017. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin
Australian Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto leaves following her release at the High Court in Shah Alam, outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia December 27, 2017. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin
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"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)

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