More than 250kg of drugs was swapped with boxes of cornstarch inside an Auckland International Airport cargo zone controlled by Customs.
Unfortunately for the businessman who owned Ezi World Cargo, which moves freight for the Pacific Islands, police officers were covertly watching the largest drug shipment into New Zealand ever discovered.
Mosese Laumanu Uele was this week sentenced to 5 years and 5 months in prison after pleading guilty to one charge of importing pseudoephedrine into the country.
His jail term was reduced because of his early admission, genuine remorse and previous good character.
Justice Mark Woolford said the 48-year-old was not the "prime mover" but played an important role because of his business and licence to operate in a Customs Controlled Area.
Intercepted phone calls show one of the main Operation Ghost targets, Da Wen Shao, was in frequent contact with the former staff member of Ezi World. Uele initially rebuffed approaches from his ex-employee to help smuggle drugs but Justice Woolford said the financial temptation, an offer of $60,000, became too great.
She left a van unattended in a supermarket carpark last October, which Uele drove into Ezi World on George Bolt Memorial Drive.
Later that night, police covertly took the van into a Customs compound nearby and tested the powder - and found genuine cornstarch - before resealing the boxes and returning to Ezi World.
Sometime over the next three days, Uele swapped the cornstarch with boxes labelled "potato starch" but containing pseudoephedrine.
He later left the van in an Onehunga carpark, where it was taken and the 250kg drug cache split at "safe houses" in Avondale and Blockhouse Bay.
Justice Woolford accepted Uele's involvement was a "one off" and "totally out of character", which had previously included generous donations to the Tongan community.
His lawyer John Kovacevich told the Herald that his client was a "very good man who got caught up with some bad people".
The total amount of pseudoephedrine seized in the October and December raids was nearly 600kg - enough to cook $172 million of P - including 260kg disguised as "bread crumbs" inside a shipping container at the Ports of Auckland.
Homes, cars and cash worth more than $20 million were seized and restrained under the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act.