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Mother-in-law 'used as drug mule'

SIMON DAY
Last updated 14:38 02/07/2014

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A New Zealand man who allegedly imported cocaine using his mother-in-law as a mule, is lying about his role a jury has been told.

Peter Leaitua is charged with importing cocaine into New Zealand with his 37-year-old mother-in-law Sorlinda Aristizabal-Vega, who carried 27 packets of the drug inside her from Argentina. in September 2011.

She died the day after she arrived in New Zealand, 45 minutes after Leaitua dropped her at Auckland Hospital, which found three of the packages had burst in her stomach.

Leaitua admitted he met a group of Colombian drug dealers in Buenos Aires a week before he and his family travelled with Aristizabal-Vega. He said that as soon as he learned of the plan he tried to convince Aristizabal-Vega and his contact in the drug ring to call the deal off and believed her when she said she was not carrying cocaine.

In its closing address to the jury today, the Crown said Leaitua's testimony was full of lies. The Crown argued Aristizabal-Vega was the mule and Leaitua was the minder.

Leaitua claimed his meeting on August 30, 2011 with three men convicted of being part of an international drug syndicate, was the first time he had met two of them.

The Crown said evidence showed Leaitua was familiar with the men long before his contact in the drug ring arrived at the meeting.

"You will see the extended arm of Jara. You will see Mr Leaitua putting his arm on Jara. You will see their arms wrapped around each other," Crown prosecutor, Kieran Raftery said.

"It suggests a familiarity, because of the intimacy of the meeting. That is the first indication that Mr Leaitua is lying about the meeting and trying to cast it in a different light."

The deal only went ahead because Leaitua was an active and willing participant, he said.

Leaitua was friends with one of the drug dealers known to Argentinian police as Mono. Leaitua's past would have been familiar to Mono, and his previous attempt to smuggle drugs into Europe would have been "music to his ears," the Crown said.

"We know here is a man who is prepared to use international air travel to import cocaine to overseas locations for significant gain," Raftery said.

"We know he is prepared to do it in commercial quantities."

After Aristizabal-Vega died, the drug dealers in Argentina were recorded discussing the death of a woman in New Zealand about three hours before police first released any information to the media.

The Crown argued the information could have only come from Leaitua.

"They are obviously talking about this death of Sorlinda Vega and it tells you so much about the relationship between these drug dealers and Peter Leaitua," he said.

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"That tells you that Peter is letting the Argentinian end of his drug operation know it had gone belly-up."

When Aristizabal-Vega began to fall ill the night she arrived in New Zealand she went to the toilet and called out to Leaitua for help - she didn't call out for her daughter, he said.

"It was because Peter knew what was inside her," Raftery said.

"That's the man she wants in the toilet with her because he knows what is going on."

The defence said Aristizabal-Vega acted alone.

She was from an area of Colombia known for producing cocaine, had travelled internationally alone in the past and was capable of acting alone, the defence said.

Leaitua and his family were relocating to New Zealand, not importing drugs, according to the defence.

Leaitua's assistance to Aristizabal-Vega's travel was analogous to that of the taxi driver who took her to the airport or the pilot of the plane who flew them to New Zealand.

Defence counsel Christopher Wilkinson-Smith will present his closing address to the jury this afternoon.

- Stuff

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