A former Wanganui man has been found not guilty of importing cocaine via his mother-in-law's stomach in an incident that killed her.

Peter Leaitua, now 43, was returning to New Zealand from Colombia via Argentina with his partner, two children and mother-in-law in 2012.

The mother-in-law, Sorlinda Vega, had swallowed 26 packets, or about half a kilo, of cocaine and managed to get through Customs. However, the following day two of the packets split in her stomach and she died in Auckland Hospital of acute cocaine poisoning, 21 hours after arriving in the country. The cocaine was estimated to be worth $120,000 to $190,000.

Mr Leaitua then became a target of investigations by Argentine and New Zealand police.


He was originally charged with manslaughter and importing cocaine. It can be revealed he was discharged on the manslaughter charge in April last year.

Earlier this year he was tried on the importing cocaine charge in the High Court at Auckland, the jury unable to reach a verdict.

However, he was found not guilty by a jury in a second trial at the High Court yesterday.

"He's massively relieved," his lawyer, Chris Wilkinson-Smith, told the Chronicle.

"He was having to think about the possibility he would be serving a very lengthy prison sentence. (Now he can) carry on and be a father," Mr Wilkinson-Smith said.

"It's life changing."

Mr Wilkinson-Smith said Mr Leaitua left Wanganui when he was about 20 and his family had since spread around the globe.

He said Mr Leaitua had trained as a butcher in Wanganui and also had a stint playing rugby for King Country before taking up kickboxing in Colombia.


Mr Wilkinson-Smith said the defence argued Ms Vega was an independent woman and was capable of importing the drug without Mr Leaitua's help.

He said the 43-year-old was now looking forward to spending time with his three sons and getting back to an ordinary life.