A New Zealand pensioner charged with trafficking cocaine in Australia told friends he would have "cut it out" if he'd known the drug was in his suitcase.

Ray Arbon, a retired organic beekeeper from the West Coast, has been charged with trafficking a marketable amount of cocaine. The charge could see him sentenced to 25 years or life in prison.

Mr Arbon told friends he had been travelling to secure a low-cost loan, apparently after he lost his life savings in a text scam.

A woman offered Mr Arbon a large sum of money if he travelled to Brazil then emailed two Nigerian men from Boston and Texas, his supporter Astrid Nader-Louw told Fairfax.


He purchased a $4000 plane ticket and flew to Brazil where he stayed for two days. The men gave him a suitcase of clothing to take to Perth, Fairfax reported.

The cocaine was found in the lining of his bag.

Mr Arbon contacted his friend, Graeme Macilquham, saying he has been charged with trying to smuggle in 8kg of the drug in his bag.

He has told friends he would have "cut it out" if he had known it was there, Mr Macilquham said.

Mr Arbon did not have a lawyer yet and it apparently took four weeks for a legal aid request to be processed and then to decide whether to accept the case, Mr Macilquham told the Greymouth Star.

If legal aid is refused, Mr Arbon says he will have to defend himself when his court case begins in Perth on April 1.

The Western Australian Court can declare people to be a "drug trafficker" if they are found carrying more than 28g of cocaine.

Mr Arbon, originally from Whakatane, did a diploma in dairy technology at Massey University and later took up mountaineering. He worked on oil rigs, got into scaffolding, but fell off a building and broke his back, leaving him with a stoop.

He helped in the aftermath of the Erebus and Cave Creek disasters.

He moved to the West Coast in 1981.

A few years ago Mr Arbon sold his Coast Road property, moved to Kumara Junction and then to a pensioner's flat in Blaketown.

Mr Arbon, who walks with a pronounced stoop, is well known around Greymouth, and until his latest overseas trip he was often selling honey outside the Greymouth market.

In 2014, talking of his love for organic beekeeping, he told the Greymouth Star: "It's not about the money, it's about the environment".

Whanganui man Antony de Malmanche was likewise arrested for drug trafficking internationally but said he had been caught up in a scam.

He was arrested in December 2014 after customs officers found 1.7kg of methamphetamine in his backpack at Denpasar International Airport.

At last year's trial in Bali, his defence argued he was a trafficked person, not a trafficker, as he had flown to Asia to meet an online girlfriend and was a victim of an online dating scam run by drug cartels.

However, De Malmanche was found guilty by an Indonesian court and sentenced to 15 years in Kerobokan Prison this year.

-Additional reporting from the Greymouth Star