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Argentine police give evidence at cocaine trial

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

After watching a video link from Argentina of undercover police officers wearing hoodies and sporting five o'clock shadows, an Auckland jury today got a different perspective of the country's Gendarmerie.

Resplendent in his dark green jacket, beige trousers and shiny black shoes, Captain Francesco Pucci strode to the witness box in the High Court at Auckland.

On his right chest were a clutch of medals obtained during his 17-year career.

Sometimes he needed help from a Spanish interpreter, at other times his English was good as he described an investigation he led into an Argentine drug ring in 2011.

In August that year members of his squad conducted covert surveillance of those involved in the ring, and one evening in late August they witnessed and photographed a meeting at a Santa Fe restaurant.

Also present were a couple of people Mr Pucci said Argentine police didn't recognise, one of whom the Crown says is Peter Phillip Leaitua.

The 43-year-old is on trial in Auckland before Justice Edwin Wylie and a High Court jury, facing one charge of being a party to importing cocaine to New Zealand.

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

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

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

The Crown says Leaitua 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.

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

Mr Pucci said his police force's drugs operation ended with six arrests in October 2011 of four Colombians, one Argentine man and one from Peru.

During the investigation, Argentine police listened in on phone calls, and shortly after Ms Vega's death, men known as "Hara" and "Mono" talked about the death of a woman in New Zealand and how they had lost $200,000.

"In Argentina [when] you talk about dollars, you're taking about American dollars."

The trial continues.

- APNZ

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