3 Jul 2014

Cocaine jury's deliberations delayed

10:31 am on 3 July 2014

A jury deciding the case of a man accused of organising a cocaine importation that cost his mother-in-law's life are likely to begin their deliberations on Friday.

The jury was to hear Justice Wylie summing up the case on Thursday morning but one of the jurors is unwell and told the registrar she was not in a position to give her full attention to the case.

Justice Wylie has dismissed the jurors for the day.

Peter Leaitua.

Peter Leaitua. Photo: FACEBOOK

Peter Phillip Leaitua has denied a charge of importing cocaine, estimated to have a New Zealand street value of $200,000.

The drugs were smuggled into New Zealand inside the stomach of Mr Leaitua's mother-in-law, Sorlinda Aristizabal Vega, but after at least three packages burst inside her and she died of an overdose.

In his closing address to the jurors, Crown prosecutor Kieran Raftery said Mr Leaitua had met Colombian gangsters in Buenas Aires just days before Ms Vega's fatal drug run.

"The three members of that syndicate of six, who are now in prison, were there at that meeting. They weren't there for any other reason," Mr Raftery said.

"Sorlinda wasn't there because she's just 'that woman', 'the lady'. She's just the mule, the carrier, the courier. She's just an impersonal identity as far as they're concerned."

'Accused a minder'

Mr Leaitua was the minder and helped organise the drug run, he said.

Mr Raftery also addressed inconsistencies between Mr Leaitua's evidence and what his partner, Michel Aristizabal, later told the court.

Mr Leaitua said that when he learned of Ms Vega's plans to carry drugs into New Zealand he challenged her about it and convinced her not to do it.

He said later he talked the matter over with Ms Aristizabal, who also agreed the drug run was a bad idea.

However, that was not what Ms Aristizabal told the court.

"He didn't talk to her about it at all. He didn't talk to her mother about it in her hearing."

He said while she did hear an argument, it was about Mr Leaitua criticising Ms Vega's parenting skills and was nothing to do with drugs.

Mr Leaitua's lawyer, Chris Wilkinson-Smith, went back to the beginning of the case, starting with an Argentinian police investigation code-named Operation Kangaroo.

He said that investigation generated 1600 pages of intercepted phone calls and photos over about a year, and Mr Leaitua popped up only once.

That was during a meeting in August 2011 in Buenas Aires, when Mr Leaitua was approached by the gangsters to take part in the drugs operation.

But Mr Wilkinson-Smith said Mr Leaitua turned them down.

Previous trouble

He said his client had already been caught by French authorities in 2003 and had spent 18 months in prison for his troubles.

"Maybe to a young person, that easy money is too tempting, but he's been burnt badly."

He said eight years after the French jail time, Mr Leaitua was moving to New Zealand with his young family and had everything to lose.

Mr Wilkinson-Smith also reminded the jury about Ms Vega's background; she came from a poor part of Colombia which was ravaged by the drug trade, where bodies would turn up at the edge of the forrest and the army was frequently called in to quell the violence.

Mr Leaitua and Ms Aristizabal would have opposed any plans Ms Vega may have had to swallow drugs and bring them into New Zealand because they knew Ms Vega had problems with her digestive system and took medication, he said.

"It sounds a bit callous to talk about mules, members of the jury, but apparently that's what they're called in this world and effectively, why would you chose a lame mule? You'd want a healthy person, especially if it's going to be swallowed."

Ms Vega was acting alone and would have wanted a nest egg because she was starting a new life in a new country, Mr Wilkinson-Smith said.