People: Asprilla cash `was used to buy cocaine'

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The Independent Online
Football star Faustino Asprilla gave up to pounds 1,000 in cash to a suspected drug dealer who spent the money on cocaine, a court heard yesterday.

The Newcastle United striker stepped into the witness box at Southwark Crown Court to insist that he did not know Leonel Sarmiento-Mattoa was a cocaine addict or that he intended to spend the money on drugs. He said he thought he was helping his fellow Colombian out with accommodation problems after he was evicted from his home.

The court heard that Sarmiento-Mattoa befriended Asprilla (pictured) after the footballer's arrival in Britain in February, 1996 on a transfer to Newcastle from Italian side Parma.

Cleaner Sarmiento-Mattoa, 31, from north London, told the court he would help the Spanish-speaking star with translations and would occasionally be given small sums of between pounds 50 and pounds 100 as thanks and to pay for his travel expenses. He told the jury that in early February this year he visited Asprilla with his wife Marcella and told him of his accommodation difficulties and the striker gave him the cash in pounds 20 notes.

Two weeks later, on 12 February, Sarmiento-Mattoa was stopped by police while driving in London and 41.4g of cocaine was found in a briefcase on the back seat of his car.

Sarmiento-Mattoa insisted that the drugs were not for Asprilla, but were for his own personal use. He said he used the lactose as a `pick-you-up' when he could not get hold of cocaine.

He denies a charge of possessing the drug with intent to supply. The case continues