Horse head trial: Accused's story labelled 'absurd'

  • 16/06/2017
The jewel-encrusted horse head.
The jewel-encrusted horse head. Photo credit: Newshub.

Two men accused of trafficking $14 million worth of cocaine inside a jewel-encrusted horse head statue have told an absurd tale about why they were in New Zealand, the Crown says.

American Ronald Cook Senior, 56, and 44-year-old Augustin Suarez-Juarez of Mexico were arrested last July after Customs made its largest-ever interception of cocaine, finding 35 kilograms of the A-class drug inside the glittering sculpture arriving by plane.

The pair have been on trial in Auckland charged with possessing and supplying cocaine.

Both men testified they believed the horse head contained cash, not drugs, and that they intended to open legitimate businesses in New Zealand dealing in paint products, Prosecutor David Stevens told a jury in his closing remarks at the High Court at Auckland on Friday.

He said these "lies" were a "sham", "absurd" and a desperate attempt to evade conviction.

"They were not on holiday. They were not in New Zealand on any legitimate business," Mr Stevens said.

"They knew there was drugs in horse head and they tried to supply them."

The prosecutor rattled off a long list of what he called lies in Cook and Suarez-Juarez's testimonies, saying the two told tall tales not only inconsistent with each other, but even inconsistent within their own accounts.

This ranged from small examples, such as how the men first contacted each other about travelling to New Zealand - Cook said by phone and Suarez-Juarez by Facebook - to a disagreement on whether Suarez-Juarez had offered to pay Cook $50,000 for the job, Mr Stevens said.

Mr Stevens also said the men made a visit to the Auckland Chamber of Commerce to talk about opening a factory in the city employing 50 people, but that the chamber representative had later told the court she did not think the enquiry was genuine.

Instead, every action the men took was consistent with their intention to deal the cocaine until being caught in a high-tech Customs and police sting, Mr Stevens said.

This began when Customs - with the help of a sniffer dog - discovered the drugs 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 monitored Cook and Suarez-Juarez's movements after they flew into New Zealand in May and June 2016, first to move the horse head statue and then to supply cocaine extracted from it, Mr Stevens said.

They were finally arrested trying to leave the country after becoming aware they were being tracked, he said.