She came from Japan and Malaysia sentenced her to hang for 3.5kg of meth. Now she gets to live

Malaysia’s top court on Wednesday commuted the death sentence imposed on a Japanese woman for drug trafficking to 30 years in prison, following a judicial reform that scrapped mandatory capital punishment for drugs and several other serious offences.

In a unanimous decision, a panel of three judges at the Federal Court replaced the death sentence handed to Mariko Takeuchi, 50, with imprisonment of 30 years from the date of her arrest in 2009, after reviewing an appeal for a lesser punishment.

Takeuchi lost her appeal in 2015, with the court upholding lower court rulings in which the former nurse was sentenced to hang for trafficking 3.5kg of methamphetamine into Malaysia in 2009.

She filed an appeal for a lesser punishment after a law allowing prisoners sentenced to death or life imprisonment to seek a reduced sentence took effect in September last year. The law was part of a judicial reform that abolished mandatory death or life sentences for 11 offences, including drug trafficking, murder and terrorism.

Takeuchi testified at her trial that she did not know about the drugs found in a suitcase she brought to Kuala Lumpur International Airport from Dubai. She pleaded innocent, maintaining that she was carrying the suitcase as a favour for an Iranian acquaintance.

Takeuchi is seen being escorted by Malaysian police to a court hearing in Kuala Lumpur in 2009. Photo: AFP
Takeuchi, who hails from Japan’s Aomori prefecture, was the first Japanese tried national for drug trafficking in Malaysia and the first to be sentenced to death.

Her lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik told reporters outside the courtroom that Takeuchi could be freed by 2029 as prison rules allow one-third remission to a jail term for good behaviour.

Prior to the law taking effect, there were 1,020 convicts on death row or serving life sentences, according to government data.

Most of these convicts requested a review of their sentences after the enforcement of the law and had their death penalty reduced to a jail term.