Queenstown cops sorry’ as assault culprit goes free

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Police have apologised to a Queenstown woman demanding justice after her attacker fled the country prior to sentencing. 

Uruguayan Martin Avenatti-Cuna pleaded guilty to indecent assault at Queenstown District Court last month. 

Judge Kevin Phillips told the 27-year-old Lake Hayes resident he could expect jail for the December attack and remanded him on bail. 

But on Monday the court heard he had flown to Santiago in Chile on January 21. 

The victim says: “It was a shock. They called me into the station two weeks ago and said ‘sorry, he’s fled the country’. 

“They said one of the officers just forgot to ask him to surrender his passport. It was very difficult to hear. It just means he doesn’t have to answer for what he’s done,” the woman tells Mountain Scene. 

“He can just keep doing it again and again and not face his responsibilities.” 

Police say Avenatti-Cuna did not have to surrender his passport because he is a permanent New Zealand resident and has lived here for five years. 

The woman’s terrifying 40-minute ordeal happened after she agreed to give Avenatti-Cuna and his friends a lift home. After dropping off his friends, the woman drove him to his house. 

Avenatti-Cuna then made repeated sexual advances towards the woman including kissing her, touching her breasts and putting his hand up her skirt. 

The woman says she was afraid she would be raped. 

“He tried to pull me out of the car and I knew if he had, he could have done what he wanted. 

“It was a real physical struggle with him. I was pushing him off me but the more I pushed him off me the more he came on to me.” 

In December, defence counsel Mike Newell told the court Avenatti-Cuna was drunk and acting out of character because he did not usually drink. 

The woman says: “He was not drunk. He tasted disgusting but not like alcohol. He didn’t smell of alcohol or appear drunk. He’s obviously just a really sleazy guy.” 

The woman, who says she intends to make an official complaint to police, attended the first court hearing. 

“It was really hard to see him again but I just wanted to see that something was going to be done about it. And what was going to be done about it. 

“I’m sort of relieved he’s gone because it freaked me out thinking I was going to see him around Queenstown. But I’m upset nothing is going to happen to him, it’s unacceptable and something needs to change.” 

Queenstown’s senior sergeant John Fookes (above) says: “Officers determined he was a permanent resident of NZ, had his family here, so in the circumstances they didn’t consider it was necessary to take his passport. 

“Obviously we’re a bit surprised by the turn of events. It wasn’t part of the bail conditions. They obviously didn’t consider him to be a particular risk of flight but have subsequently been proven wrong. 

“There’s no way we’re belittling the offending but it was towards the lower end of the scale for this type of offending. When you line it all up, appropriate action has been taken but we’ve been caught out. We’re not 
pleased about that at all and sorry for the complainant. 

“It highlights the fact you can’t take anything for granted,” Fookes says.