PUTRAJAYA, May 27 ― Two Bulgarian men escaped the gallows after the Court of Appeal, here, today reduced their drug trafficking charges to drug  possession.

A three-member panel chaired by Justice Datuk Wira Mohtarudin Baki, allowed the appeal brought by Ivan Kirov Kostov and Georgi Dinev Bakalov to set aside their convictions and death sentences for trafficking in methamphetamine.

Justice Mohtarudin said the court found that the duo's appeal had merit.            

He said the presumption of trafficking had been rebutted on the balance of probability and the court found enough evidence in the case to invoke Section 37(d) of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 that they were in possession of the drug and not trafficking.

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The other two judges presiding on the panel were Datuk Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat and Datuk Ahmadi Asnawi.

Justice Mohtarudin, however, convicted the duo on reduced charges of possessing the drug and sentenced each of them to 15 years' jail and 14 strokes of the cane.

Kostov and Bakolov were ordered to serve their sentences from the date of their arrest, May 18, 2011.

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On October 31, 2012, the High Court in Johor Baharu sentenced them to death after finding them guilty of respectively trafficking in 1,945.6 grammes and 2,176.85 grammes of methamphetamine.

They were accused of committing the offence at a bus stop at the Sultan Ismail International Airport in Senai, Johor at 4.15pm on May 18, 2011.

Earlier, their counsel Edmund Bon submitted that a man named Georgieve was the mastermind and his clients were drug mules.

He said the prosecution did not offer Georgieve as witness to the defence.       

Bon said Georgieve was arrested together with Kostov and Bakolov but was placed in detention under the Dangerous Drugs (Special Preventive Measures) Act 1985 for a year and released on June 29, 2012.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Mukhzany Farez Mohd Mokhtar appeared for the prosecution. ― Bernama