9 Sep 2011

Colombian drug-smuggler dies after package bursts

5:53 am on 9 September 2011

Police are investigating whether a Colombian woman who died after a bag of drugs burst inside her body has links to organised crime in New Zealand.

Sorlinda Arirtizabal Vega, 37, arrived from Buenos Aires on Tuesday as part of a family group which included her New Zealand son-in-law.

She was admitted to Auckland hospital on Wednesday morning, but died a short time later.

Detective Inspector Scott Beard says a post-mortem revealed she was carrying at least 26 packages of what is believed to be cocaine internally, weighing more than 0.5kg in total.

They say if the drugs are confirmed to be cocaine, they would have an estimated street value of up to $175,000.

Mr Beard says the family were on holiday and police are trying to establish if they were considering moving to the country.

"Our investigation essentially is trying to look at any links between the woman, her family and organised crime within New Zealand."

Customs drug investigations manager Mark Day told Checkpoint there was nothing in Ms Vega's demeanour that raised suspicions.

"She purported to be a genuine visitor, she had genuine documentation ... Obviously, she had another motive for coming into New Zealand and she has unfortunately paid the ultimate price."

Mr Day says in the past two years, the number of people detected trying to smuggle drugs internally has increased by about 400%.

The death has been referred to the coroner.