KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – A Malaysian court on Thursday sentenced to death three Mexican brothers and two other people for drug trafficking, rejecting the defense argument that evidence was tampered with.
The Mexicans are from Sinaloa state, the cradle of their country's drug trade, but have no criminal record at home. They were arrested at a secluded drug-making factory in 2008 and claimed they had been cleaning the place, not making drugs.
Kuala Lumpur High Court Judge Mohamad Zawawi Salleh convicted the five men, ruling that the prosecution had proven its case beyond reasonable doubt. The death sentence is the mandatory penalty for drug trafficking in Malaysia. The other defendants are a Singaporean and a Malaysian.
"The court finds all five accused are aware and are involved in the activity of drug-making," Mohamad Zawawi said, adding that the verdict should be a warning to potential drug offenders.
"We are very sad. We thought we would be acquitted," said the eldest brother, Luis Alfonso Gonzales.
The court had previously rejected the defense's contention that some evidence discrepancies amounted to tampering after a chemist testified that seven items he received for analysis looked different from what he had seen at the factory. The prosecution denied there was any manipulation that undermined the trial.
At the factory where the men were arrested, police found more than 29 kilograms (63 pounds) of methamphetamine worth 44 million ringgit ($15 million).
Judge Mohamed Zawawi said it was clear the men were arrested at an illegal drug laboratory. Traces of drug chemicals were on their clothes, and their claim to have been cleaning the place was not logical because stains were also found on their underwear, he said.
Some of the brothers' family, including two sisters and a wife, attended previous hearings but were not in court Thursday.
The men are the first Mexicans arrested in Malaysia on drug trafficking charges. They worked making and selling bricks in Mexico, and their family said they left for a job opportunity abroad. Relatives and neighbors insist there was no sign they were involved in the drug trade.
The men appeared calm as the judge read his verdict. They will appeal the decision, said their lawyer, Kitson Foong.
The brothers — Jose Regino Gonzales, 33, Simon, 37, and Luis Alfonso, 44 — were on trial with Singaporean Lim Hung Wang and Malaysian Lee Boon Siah.
Malaysia's government said last year it had hanged more than 440 people in the past 50 years, many of them for drug crimes, while some 700 were on death row.
The Mexican government has not sought to intervene in the case, Isidro Alejandro Ortiz Felix, consular head at the Mexican Embassy, said after attending Thursday's hearing.
Mexico does not have the death penalty and refuses to extradite its citizens in cases where they would face the death penalty.