MARK COLVIN: An Australian man facing the death penalty for drug trafficking in Malaysia is in court in Kuala Lumpur today. The former Perth resident, Dominic Bird, was charged in March over allegedly selling methamphetamine to Malaysian undercover police.
Our Southeast Asia correspondent, Zoe Daniel, told me from Kuala Lumpur about the significance of the amount of methamphetamine involved.
ZOE DANIEL: Well the original estimate on what he was allegedly carrying was 228 grams. Now what 's been happening over the last couple of months is that that drug that was seized has been tested and weighed, and the court was told today that the final amount that he will be charged with carrying was 168.7 grams. And that's taking into account things like the reduction of moisture content and that type of thing.
The significance of that is that in Malaysia if you're caught in possession of more than 50 grams of methamphetamine the charge is automatically drug trafficking. And under the country's Dangerous Drugs Act that automatically, under Section 39b, attracts a death penalty.
So, essentially, what we’ve heard in the magistrates court today is that he was carrying allegedly significantly more than that death penalty threshold; therefore, the case has been commuted to the high court for trial.
MARK COLVIN: Is the defence disputing the weight?
ZOE DANIEL: Not as such. But they do say that the can defend the charge on the basis that they're questioning the credibility of the Malaysian police who conducted the sting in which this drug was allegedly seized from Dominic Bird.
The allegation is that he attempted to sell the methamphetamine to Malaysian undercover police, and it was after that that he was arrested.
They're also saying that because he was arrested with a couple of other people there is some question about who was actually in the possession of the drug. And they'll be asking the prosecution to, obviously, prove beyond reasonable doubt that he was actually the one in possession of the drug at the time of his arrest.
MARK COLVIN: And how did Dominic Bird look in court?
ZOE DANIEL: Actually I was surprised to see how well he appeared because we've heard stories from his lawyers that they've had difficulty accessing him, that he was intimidated by police early on during the period of his detention.
He seems to be in reasonably good health. He was waving at his lawyers, at members of his family, at representatives from the Australian High Commission. He whispered to his father 'hello' when he was in the dock. His father, though, did seem very distressed to see him brought out shackled to 10 other prisoners.
His father was sitting next to me and his father was fighting back tears certainly during the early part of the hearing. And you can imagine how confronting that would be to see your child in that situation, although Dominic Bird is obviously in his early 30s. But his father clearly found that very difficult to cope with.
MARK COLVIN: And very briefly, when does the next stage of the process take place?
ZOE DANIEL: Mr Bird's lawyers are saying that they'll try to get a trial date within the next week or so. That'll be done through a brief hearing, perhaps next week, and they're hoping that a trial date will be set as soon as possible.
MARK COLVIN: Southeast Asia correspondent, Zoe Daniel, on the phone from Kuala Lumpur.