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Cocaine accused offered $500,000

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 9/06/2017 Ben Leahy
The cocaine was hidden in a horse head. © NZ Police The cocaine was hidden in a horse head.

An American man arrested in New Zealand's biggest cocaine bust says he did not know he was transporting drugs despite being paid $50,000 and offered half a million more to start a business.

Ronald Cook Senior, 56, and 44-year-old Augustin Suarez-Juarez of Mexico were arrested last July after Customs found 35 kilograms of cocaine, valued at $14 million, inside a large brightly decorated horse head statue arriving by plane.

They are on trial charged with possessing and supplying cocaine, but deny the charges.

On Friday, Cook told the High Court at Auckland his purpose in New Zealand was to help Suarez-Juarez move the artistically crafted horse head statue.

But it was only shortly before arriving in the country that he was offered $50,000 payment for his role moving it after being told the horse head contained laundered cash, he said.

He said he needed the payment to fix the roof on his Hawaiian home and denied knowing the statue actually contained cocaine and not cash.

He was also offered about $500,000 as seed money to set up a business to import paint into New Zealand, despite having only a very loose concept of how the business could work, he said.

But Crown prosecutor David Stevens asked Cook if he thought the deal sounded ridiculously good and likely to be "highly criminal", given he was being asked to simply move an art piece and then set up a business he had no experience or plan for running.

And you also "seriously considered getting your son involved in this" plan, Mr Stevens asked Cook in reference to earlier testimony about seeking his son's help.

"I repent to God for it, but yes I did," Cook said.

Mr Stevens earlier in the trial alleged Cook and Suarez-Jaurez flew into New Zealand on two occasions in May and June 2016, first to move the horse head statue to an apartment and then to supply cocaine extracted from it.

Instead, they were caught as part of a high tech Customs and police sting, he said.

It began when Customs - with the help of a sniffer dog - discovered the packages of cocaine in the horse head.

They then repacked it with 34 packages containing flour and one containing polystyrene and a tracking device, before sending the statue on its way so that it appeared it had not been interfered with.

Police next monitored Cook and Suarez-Juarez's movements until they were finally arrested trying to leave the country, Mr Stevens said.

The trial continues.

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