A 31-year-old Chinese man has been sentenced to eight years' imprisonment for using hand warmers, ashtrays and belts to try import nearly $2 million of ephedrine - a precursor to methamphetamine.

Shuai Zhao was sentenced in the Manukau District Court on Wednesday on nine charges of importing ephedrine and one charge of possession. He will serve at least half this term before facing deportation.

Between August and October 2015, Customs seized nine separate consignments addressed to different Auckland residences.

Ashtrays from Malaysia, hand warmers from China and belts from France all hid ephedrine totalling 16.8kg, with a street value of close to $1.9 million.

Investigations connected the consignments and identified Zhao as the recipient.

He had arrived in the country in July 2015 on a visitor's visa, and was prevented from leaving the country by Customs officers at Auckland International Airport in early November.

Customs investigations manager, Maurice O'Brien, said drug syndicates utilise different tactics for smuggling and distributing drugs.

"In this case, Customs believe Zhao was recruited overseas for a specific purpose - to come to New Zealand to receive the drugs and pass them on for subsequent distribution.

"Customs is well aware of the various methods these criminals use, and is able to connect consignments to the people involved. This conviction is evidence of that."

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Anyone wanting to report suspicious packages or people can call 0800 4 CUSTOMS.