24 Jun 2014

Son-in-law denies drug charge

10:36 am on 24 June 2014

A woman who died shortly after being dropped at Auckland Hospital by her son-in-law was found to have 24 packets of cocaine in her stomach.

Sorlinda Aristizabal-Vega died of a cocaine overdose after some of the packages burst. She had arrived from Buenos Aires the day before with her daughter and her son-in-law Peter Leaitua.

Peter Leaitua.

Peter Leaitua. Photo: FACEBOOK

Mr Leaitua is on trial in the High Court in Auckland where he has denied a charge of importing the class A drug.

Crown prosecutor Kingi Snelgar told the court on Monday that Ms Vega was dropped at hospital by Mr Leaitua in September 2011, shortly after arriving in Auckland from Argentina.

A post-mortem found that she had been carrying at least 24 packages of cocaine totalling more than half a kilogram. Some had burst in her stomach.

Mr Snelgar said that even though it was Ms Vega who ingested the drugs, Mr Leaitua played his part.

"His assistance started when he applied for Ms Vega's visa to travel to New Zealand. It continued when he met with two members of a cocaine syndicate in Buenos Aires."

Ms Vega died the day after arriving from Buenos Aires with her daughter and Mr Leaitua.

Paul Morrow, who did the post-mortem, said Ms Vega probably ingested the cocaine about 24 hours before she died. He found 22 intact plastic packets. He said he has seen similar cases in the United States and Australia.

Mr Leaitua's lawyer, Chris Wilkinson-Smith, said the question for the jury was whether Mr Leaitua was part of the plan to import cocaine.

The Crown will call more than 25 witnesses at the trial, including members of the national Argentine gendarmerie.