A convicted drug smuggler yesterday began a 13-year jail sentence, claiming he was set up by Mr Asia syndicate figure Darryl Sorby.

Former Zimbabwean Robert Charles De Bruin, 51, and Alexander Gavin Smith, 36, of South Africa, were each found guilty by a jury in the High Court at Auckland late last year on six charges of importing MDMA (Ecstasy).

The drugs had a wholesale value of between $6 million and $7 million and a street value of between $15 million and $20 million.

De Bruin was also found guilty on six charges of selling Ecstasy and nine charges of money laundering.

Smith, who was jailed for nine years, was also convicted on six money-laundering charges.

At the start of the first trial - there were three altogether - Sorby admitted a charge of laundering money through a Westmere solicitor's trust account and was jailed for 21 months.

Sorby was a central character in the Mr Asia drug ring and served 12 years for drug-dealing in Australia in the 1970s and 1980s.

Yesterday, in the High Court, Justice Geoffrey Venning allowed De Bruin to make a brief statement before being sentenced.

De Bruin said the only thing he was guilty of was trying to help fellow white Africans start a new life in this country by helping them get their assets out of South Africa.

He now realised that he had been used by unscrupulous people who imported the drugs into New Zealand and set him op as a "scapegoat".

There was a lot of evidence of Sorby's involvement, but the police and prosecution had left him "totally untouched".

De Bruin was represented at the sentencing hearing by Gary Gotlieb, who told the court that Sorby was extraordinarily lucky not to face charges.

At his trial, De Bruin had maintained that the $443,000 he paid in cash for his Glendowie house and the $379,000 - mostly in $20 notes - which the police found there, came from the sale of property in Zimbabwe and the "spoils of war" from his time gun-running for the minority white Southern Rhodesia Government of Ian Smith.

He claimed that he had arranged for uncut diamonds to be brought to New Zealand and sold them on the black market.

That claim was rejected by the Crown, represented by Ross Burns and David Johnstone, and by the jury.

Mr Burns told the judge that De Bruin and Smith were involved in importing "vast quantities" of Ecstasy from South Africa with a wholesale value of up to $7 million.

Justice Venning accepted a submission from Smith's lawyer, Rob Harrison, that Smith was less involved that De Bruin.

Mr Harrison said that there was clearly someone else well up in the organisation who was not before the court.

But the judge said that it was no excuse that others might have had a greater role.

He said the matter first came to attention when Law Society auditors inspected a solicitor's trust account and saw large amounts of money passing through. That led to a lengthy police investigation.

The judge said that De Bruin had bought his house entirely with cash and the jury was satisfied that the money was the proceeds of drug-dealing.

Later, in May 2002, police and Customs seized a consignment of furniture from Durban which contained 36,000 Ecstasy tablets with a street value of between $2.8 million and $3.6 million.

De Bruin and Smith were not convicted of that importation, having been discharged on that count at one of the earlier trials. However, the Crown produced documentary evidence of six consignments of furniture from South Africa addressed to De Bruin.

The judge said the jury were rightly prepared to infer that those consignments had also contained Ecstasy.

Justice Venning said that he could take into account Smith's expressions of remorse, but De Bruin could receive no such credit because he refused to accept his guilt.

Outside the court, the officer in charge of the case, Detective Stephen Peat, said that after consultation with the Crown it had been decided there was insufficient evidence to charge Sorby with any offences relating to the drug importations.

The Crown has obtained a restraining order on De Bruin's house in Riddell Rd and the $379,000 police found there.

It intends asking for the money and property to be forfeited under the Proceeds of Crime legislation.