Charges against a man arrested in connection with New Zealand's biggest cocaine bust have been withdrawn after new Facebook messages were discovered.
The Crown's application to drop charges against 30-year-old Gonzalo Rivera-Pavon was approved in a hearing at the High Court in Auckland today.
Rivera-Pavon had been charged with possessing and importing a class A drug. The latter carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. He had earlier pleaded not guilty but was on electronic bail under a 24-hour curfew.
He told the Herald outside court: "We are relieved it's all over and we can get on with our lives."
Rivera-Pavon was arrested in a raid in Christchurch last year.
Two co-accused, fellow Mexican national Augustini Suarez, 44, and American Ronald Cook snr, 56, were arrested in July 2016 after Customs found 35kg of cocaine, with an estimated street value of $14 million, inside a 400kg diamante-encrusted horse head statue that arrived by plane from Mexico.
Charges were dropped after Rivera-Pavon's lawyer, Ron Mansfield, provided fresh evidence in the form of Facebook messages between him and another person allegedly involved in the import of the sculpture to the Crown earlier this week.
Mansfield said the messages corroborated Rivera-Pavon's explanation to police as to how and why he came to be involved and his statement that he had no knowledge of the presence of controlled drugs inside the sculpture.
Mansfield said outside court: "I don't think he should've been charged but once a decision like that's been made it's often hard to review. It's taken courage from the Crown and from the police to review that decision. We are pleased they have done it. We think it's responsible.
"He is the nicest guy you could meet. He is going to rebuild his life today. Today he gets his bracelet cut off so he can live a normal life. He hasn't been able to do that for a very long time."
Rivera-Pavon set up a Givealittle fundraising page in April asking people to donate money for his legal fees.
"I'm going through a very difficult time in my life. I need your help please," he wrote on Facebook.
In the post Pavon said he moved to New Zealand in 2014 "in search of a better life". He "settled down", got a stable job, made friends and met a partner.