Malaysia keeps death penalty

Australian Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto has been sentenced to death in Malaysia for drug trafficking

A decision in Malaysia to keep the death penalty could weigh on the futures of an Australian woman on death row there and a former policeman held in Australian immigration detention.

Malaysia has rowed back on an earlier plan to repeal the death penalty, saying the government will abolish mandatory capital punishment but leave it for courts to decide whether a person convicted of a serious crime will hang.

The Malaysian decision is disappointing news for Australian drug trafficker Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto but she may still escape execution on a court's discretion or if she wins her final appeal.

She was sentenced to death in Malaysia last year after an appeal court overturned her earlier acquittal on charges of trafficking 1.5kg of crystal methamphetamine into Malaysia.

Exposto, 54, claimed she was the victim of a set-up after she was found with the drugs stitched into the lining of her bag when arriving in Kuala Lumpur on a flight from China en-route to Melbourne in 2014.

She was acquitted after the judge found she was scammed by her online boyfriend and was unaware she was carrying the drugs.

But the prosecution in the appeal argued Exposto had been wilfully blind, that her defence was made up and she had engaged in a "sly game".

Exposto still has the opportunity of a final appeal to Malaysia's Federal Court.

Malaysia's death penalty decision could also weigh on the future of a fugitive policeman, Sirul Azhar Umar, who fled to Australia just before a Malaysian court sentenced him to death for the 2006 murder of Mongolian model Altantuya Shaariibuu.

Sirul, who has been held at an Australian immigration detention centre since 2015, faces the prospect of deportation after failing a bid for asylum in Australia.

However, under Australian law, Sirul can only be deported if he does not face the death penalty.

Mohamed Hanipa Maidin, a deputy minister in the Prime Minister's Department, told parliament on Wednesday of the change of plan for the death penalty.

In October, the law minister, Liew Vui Keong, had said the cabinet had decided to repeal the death penalty.

Sirul and another policeman convicted of the crime had been serving as members of the personal security detail for Najib Razak, who was deputy prime minister at the time of the murder.

The question of whether anyone had ordered them to kill the woman has never been answered. Najib went on to become prime minister and led the country nine years before his spectacular defeat at last year's general election.

Since then, Malaysian police have re-opened the case into the model's killing and Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has said his government could revoke Sirul's death penalty to make way for his extradition.

with AAP