The story of how NZ cops caught these cocaine dealers is INCREDIBLE
The trial of two men at the centre of New Zealand's biggest-ever cocaine bust has begun at the High Court in Auckland.
Mexican Agustin Suarez-Juarez and American Ronald Cook are charged with importing and possessing the class A drug.
The pair were arrested at Auckland Airport last year after authorities found 35 kilograms of cocaine inside a diamante encrusted horse head imported from Mexico.
The drugs had a street value of $14 million.
On Tuesday morning, the court heard details of how a joint Customs and Police operation uncovered the drugs, and led to the pair's arrest.
The jewelled horse head arrived from New Zealand from Mexico via Hong Kong on May 10. The drugs were picked up by a drug detector dog, and that's when Customs officers found 35 packages of cocaine inside the statue.
Giving his opening submission Crown lawyer David Stevens says that's when the operation began.
"The packages were removed and replica packages were prepared by Customs. 34 were filled with flour, and the 35th was filled with polystyrene, it was weighted and an electronic tracking device was also stored."
Six grams of cocaine was also added to the 35th package.
"That was so those in possession were able to commit possession of the drug instead of a harmless placebo which isn't a crime."
The horse head was then packaged up to make it look as though it hadn't been tampered with, and the statue moved through Customs as originally planned.
A third party then arranged for the horse head to be taken to a storage unit in Onehunga.
Suarez-Juarez and Cook then arrived to New Zealand from Hawaii on May 31 under the false pretence of visiting for a holiday to go diving.
"They were under police surveillance from their arrival until their departure."
The pair then organised movers to transport the 400 kilogram horse head to a property in Te Atatu on June 4, and the following day they returned to the US.
The Crown says they returned to New Zealand about a month later, telling Immigration officers they were back for business and intended to meet with the Chamber of Commerce.
"The Crown says this was to establish cover for the trip. But the Crown believes the only purpose was to access the cocaine."
The pair instead travelled to the Te Atatu property to unpack the horse head.
"Police audio recording devices confirm power tools were used, and they also discussed a meeting with a prospective buyer, a person they called David."
The Crown says Suarez-Juarez and Cook then travelled to their accommodation at the Crowne Plaza in Central Auckland taking some of the drugs with them.
They were spotted meeting the man known as "David" in the lobby, and checked out shortly after.
The Crown alleges their quick exit was because they discovered the tracking device.
"A Customs officer later found the plastic brick, the polystyrene and the tracking device. The package had been cut across the middle".
"[Suarez-Juarez and Cook] knew there was a problem and immediately checked out and tried to leave New Zealand."
Both were then arrested at Auckland Airport's departure lounge trying to leave for the US.
The Crown is expected to call around 60 witnesses to give evidence throughout the trial which is set down for four weeks.
Question over what accused knew
Both Agustin Suarez-Juarez and Cook's lawyers gave brief opening submissions.
Cook's lawyer Sam Wimsett reminded the jury not to assume his client knew cocaine was inside the horse head.
"You have seen and heard all of the Crown's version of the jigsaw. You have been given a full picture that the horse head contained cocaine. It's only natural that you view that as knowledge, the defence says Mr Cook did not."
Suarez-Juarez's lawyer issued a similar opening submission.
Peter Kaye told the court there are two important aspects around the issue of possession.
"Did my client have knowledge that there was a controlled drug of some type inside the packages, inside the horses head? It's whether he had the actual knowledge at the time not for the benefit of hindsight. That is in many ways the heart of this case.
"The other important aspect is whether or not he had any control or say of what happened to contents of those packages."