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Cocaine accused thought he smuggled cash

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 7/06/2017 Ben Leahy

An American man arrested in New Zealand's biggest cocaine bust was sipping on a beer when panic kicked in as his colleagues opened a package to discover drugs and a tracking device inside.

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 Tuesday, Cook told the High Court at Auckland, he and Suarez-Juarez had used power tools to cut the packages out of the statue before taking some to the Crowne Plaza hotel to meet a man they knew as "David".

Cook never suspected the packages contained drugs and instead believed they had cash inside as part of a money laundering operation, he said.

The money was to be used to set up a business to import flooring insulation into New Zealand with David supposed to first put the money into a bank account to make it clean.

But it was after Cook had cracked open a beer during a meeting with Suarez-Juarez and David in a room in the Crowne Plaza that David suddenly motioned them all to be quiet.

He was holding an opened package with a small "coin-sized metal piece" with wires coming out of it.

"I didnt know what it was, but I knew that it was a concern," Cook said as panic set in.

The trio quickly left the hotel with Cook and Suarez-Juarez arrested that evening in Auckland Airport's international lounge.

Under questioning from Suarez-Jaurez's lawyer Peter Kaye, Cook said his "big reason" for coming to New Zealand was his greed for a $50,000 payment he was set to receive for moving the horse head statue and the cash contained in it.

However, prosecutor David Stevens earlier in the trial alleged the men 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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