A Frenchman has admitted possessing 24kg of cocaine in Northland but denies he was trying to import the drug.

Alexander Steeve Yelengwe Yonkwa-Dingom, 26, has pleaded guilty in the Whangarei District Court to possessing 24kg of cocaine.

Yonkwa-Dingom was arrested in Paihia in December after he was found in possession of the drug after a Customs-led drug sting.

Customs and police allege the cocaine - worth up to $10.8m - came into Paihia off a cruise ship in early December.

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A collaborative Australian and New Zealand Customs and police operation preceded Yonkwa-Dingom's arrest.

Yonkwa-Dingom has pleaded not guilty to failing, without reasonable excuse, to assist a police constable exercising a search power under the Search and Surveillance Act 2012, and importing the cocaine.

He has elected a jury trial on both charges and was remanded in custody by Judge Deidre Orchard, to reappear in court on May 23.

Yonkwa-Dingom will not be sentenced for possessing cocaine until the outcome of the not-guilty pleas are known.

An interpreter assisted the French national in court.

According to court documents, Yonkwa-Dingom is from Pau, in south west France.