A man charged with manslaughter over the death of Aidan Sagala, who died after drinking meth-laced beer, has appeared in court and will keep his name secret for now.
The 40-year-old man appeared from custody in the Auckland District Court, after his arrest earlier on Thursday, on a single manslaughter charge on Thursday afternoon, before Judge Peter Winter.
Family members of Sagala were in the public gallery to watch the brief hearing, their presence acknowledged by Judge Winter.
The man is already facing charges as part of Operation Lavender, the large-scale police drug inquiry following the death. The manslaughter charge was joined to his existing drug charges at Thursday’s hearing.
His lawyer Emma Priest entered a not guilty plea on the manslaughter charge and elected trial by jury on his behalf.
Priest sought ongoing interim name suppression, arguing it was necessary to protect his fair trial rights.
This was granted by Judge Winter, who remanded the man on bail until his next appearance in the High Court at Auckland on June 14.
Court documents showed the 40-year-old man is charged with having the cans, labelled “Honey Bear Beer”, containing the Class A controlled drug methamphetamine under his control, and failing to take reasonable care to avoid the cans endangering human life, thereby committing manslaughter.
The court documents show that police allege the offence happened between January 7 and February 28 this year.
Manslaughter carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Sagala died on March 7 in Auckland City Hospital after police said he “innocently sat down for a beer” that was laced with “high purity liquid” methamphetamine.
It sparked Operation Lavender, a wider investigation into an alleged methamphetamine importation operation.
Auckland City CIB Detective Inspector Glenn Baldwin said further pathology and toxicology testing has been completed.
The investigation team had told Sagala’s family of the arrest and was continuing to support them, Baldwin said.
The investigation into the importation was ongoing and officers could not rule out further charges, Baldwin said.
“[Sagala’s] tragic death initiated Operation Lavender, which has seen numerous serious drugs charges already laid, and a large quantity of methamphetamine and other drugs recovered at an address in Manukau.
“The Operation Lavender team uncovered a significant drug importation, in which drugs in liquid form were allegedly being imported concealed in beer cans.”
While the final calculations were not yet complete, police estimated the value of the drug seizure to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, Baldwin said.