Man accused of importing cocaine filmed by Argentine police

By Jimmy Ellingham

Sorlinda Aristizabal-Vega died in Auckland Hospital in September 2011 after some of the 20 packages of cocaine she had ingested split and leaked into her body. Photo / supplied
Sorlinda Aristizabal-Vega died in Auckland Hospital in September 2011 after some of the 20 packages of cocaine she had ingested split and leaked into her body. Photo / supplied

Argentine police conducting covert surveillance photographed a man accused of importing cocaine into New Zealand - inside his mother-in-law who later died - allegedly meeting members of a drug ring in Buenos Aires.

Beamed in via video link from South America, and speaking through a Spanish translator, Argentine Federal Police officers told the High Court at Auckland today about their investigation into drug dealing in the country.

One of the officers, Sergeant Victor Quinteros, staked out a meeting between members of the drug ring.

He recognised three people, men known as Jara, Cipayo and Mono.

Also present in the Santa Fe restaurant in August 2011 were two other men he did not know.

Mr Quinteros couldn't hear what was said, but said a colleague took photos of those present and in opening the Crown case yesterday, prosecutor Kingi Snelgar said Peter Phillip Leaitua was at the meeting.

In September 2011 Leaitua, his partner, two children and mother-in-law Sorlinda Aristizabal Vega flew from Argentina to Auckland.

Ms Aristizabal, a Colombian national who was 37, had 584 grams of cocaine inside her and she died of an overdose of the class A drug the day after landing.

Three of the 27 packets containing the drug had broken inside her intestines, causing cocaine to fatally leach into her system.

The Crown says Leaitua, 43, was a party to the offending. He had met the drug dealers in Argentina, arranged Ms Vega's visa and travelled with the mule to keep an eye on her and her haul.

Before Justice Edwin Wylie and a jury, Leaitua is on trial facing one charge of importing cocaine.

The defence says Ms Vegas was acting alone and Leaitua wasn't involved in his mother-in-law's smuggling.

Sergeant Ariel Dominquez said he listened to a phone call between a member of the drugs ring and a man with a foreign accent, during which the pair arranged to meet.

Another Argentine police officer, Sergeant Hernan Araujo, told the court police intercepted calls between the Argentine drug ring's members after Leaitua and his family arrived in New Zealand.

"We heard about the death of a Colombian woman," he said.

Later in 2011, Argentine police swooped on members of the ring, arresting those involved and searching properties, where they found evidence of drug dealing.

The trial continues.

- APNZ

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