A French national accused of smuggling more than $10 million of cocaine into Northland — the largest cocaine seizure ever in the region - will enter a plea to the charge in March.
Steeve Yelengwe Yonkwa-Dingom, 26, faces charges of possession for supply of a class A drug and with failing, without reasonable excuse, to assist a police constable exercising a search power under the Search and Surveillance Act 2012.
Yonkwa-Dingom appeared in Whangarei District Court yesterday where he was remanded in custody, without plea, to reappear for a case review hearing on March 19.
A court accused normally has to enter a plea to charges at a second appearance and before a case review hearing, but Judge Duncan Harvey said he would take the unusual step of remanding Yonkwa-Dingom for the case review and he expected Yonkwa-Dingom to enter pleas on March 19.
Yonkwa-Dingom's lawyer Arthur Fairley said pleas would be entered at that date. A translator was used yesterday to translate the court proceedings to Yonkwa-Dingom.
He is accused of smuggling 24kg of cocaine worth up to $10.8 million seized in a Customs-led sting in Paihia.
The drug was allegedly smuggled into Paihia off a cruise ship in early December, with a collaborative Australian and New Zealand Customs and police operation culminating in the arrest and seizure on December 20.
The drug charge carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. The drug was packed in mainly 1kg packets, with a couple weighing in at 1.5kg, and was found in a travel bag in a room Yonkwa-Dingom was staying in at a Paihia backpackers.