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Supermarket risotto used in cocaine sting

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 24/05/2017
The cocaine was hidden in a horse head. © NZ Police The cocaine was hidden in a horse head.

When Customs officers found $14 million of cocaine in an extravagantly decorated horse head statue from Mexico, they soon turned to their local supermarket for help, a court has heard.

The team needed to repack the statue with replicas of the 35 one-kilogram blocks of cocaine they had taken from it earlier, when a scan of the local supermarket revealed a risotto box perfect for the job.

Clearing the store of its risotto stock, Customs packed the boxes with flour and wrapped them to appear like they still contained cocaine and had not been interfered with, investigator Aaron Darby-Smith told the High Court at Auckland on Wednesday.

His team's careful work laid the groundwork for a high tech sting that led to New Zealand's biggest cocaine bust.

American Ronald Cook Senior, 56, and 44-year-old Augustini Suarez-Juarez of Mexcio were arrested less than two months later and are now on trial after pleading not guilty to possessing and supplying cocaine.

Giving evidence in the trial, Mr Darby-Smith said while Customs filled 34 packages with flour, in the 35th package they instead placed polystyrene, a tracking device and six grams of cocaine.

They also placed metal bolts so the package weighed one kilogram, like the others, he said.

Looking fit for the ruse, the repacked horse head statue, encrusted in bright diamante and sequins, was then sent on its way, Crown prosecutor David Stevens said earlier in the trial.

He alleged Cook and Suarez-Juarez later flew into New Zealand in June and used power tools to cut the statue open and extract the replica packages, mistakenly believing they contained cocaine.

However, it was during an attempted drug deal at the Crowne Plaza Auckland hotel on July 1 that the pair discovered the concealed tracking device and fled to Auckland airport in a panic, Mr Stevens said.

While waiting for a flight to Los Angeles they were arrested by police officers who had been monitoring them throughout their New Zealand stay, he said.

Lawyers for Cook and Suarez-Juarez earlier said the heart of the case will rest on whether the Crown can prove the pair knew that there was cocaine inside the statue or not.

The trial continues.

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