Australian to face Malaysian drugs acquittal appeal

Australian truck driver Dominic Bird arrives at the appeals court in Putrajaya.

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia - An Australian man who was acquitted in Malaysia on the capital charge of drug trafficking was ordered on Tuesday to surrender his passport and remain in the country pending a government appeal.

Mr Dominic Bird, 33, was acquitted on Sept 4, apparently ending an 18-month legal ordeal.

But he was arrested five days later as he sought to leave the country for his home in Western Australia, as authorities said they would appeal the acquittal.

Mr Bird's lawyers have called his re-arrest unconstitutional but a three-judge appeals panel rejected that argument on Tuesday.

"An appeal is a continuation of a trial. Consequently, criminal proceedings against the respondent are revived," said Justice Azhar Mohamed, head of the panel.

Drug trafficking brings a mandatory sentence of death by hanging upon conviction.

The panel granted Mr Bird bail but ordered him to surrender his passport.

"We order that an early date be fixed for the appeal," Mr Azhar said.

Mr Bird's lawyer Shafee Abdullah said his legal team will continue to argue the unconstitutionality of the re-arrest.

Mr Bird was arrested in March last year for alleged possession of 167 grams of methamphetamine.

Anyone with at least 50 grams of the drug is considered a trafficker in Muslim-majority Malaysia.

Lawyers had based much of their case on the assertion that a government chemist had erred when analysing the substance found on their client.

Since 1960 nearly 450 people have been put to death under Malaysia's tough anti-drug laws. Two Australians were executed in 1986 for heroin trafficking - the first Westerners to be hanged.

The government has not issued a breakdown by nationality of those on death row but it said last year 449 foreigners were among those awaiting trial for offences that could potentially incur the death penalty.

Hundreds of people are on death row, many for drug-related offences, though few have been executed in recent years.