A Frenchman accused of importing 24kg of cocaine into Northland worth up to $10.8 million has elected trial by jury.

Alexander Steeve Yelengwe Yonkwa-Dingom, 26, pleaded guilty in the Whangarei District Court on Monday to possessing 24kg of cocaine but entered not guilty pleas to two other charges. They were one charge of importing cocaine and another of failing, without reasonable excuse, to assist a police constable exercising a search power under the Search and Surveillance Act 2012.

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.

He 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.

Police and Customs would not name the cruise ship, or say whether the haul was detected at an overseas port before coming into New Zealand. Nor would they say where the ship had come from or was bound for.

They said the illicit import did not come off any of the three cruise ships that called into the Bay of Islands — Ovation of the Seas, Maasdam and Caledonian Sky — the same day the cocaine bust and arrest was made (December 20). Police and Customs also refused to answer other questions — such as whether Yonkwa-Dingom, from Pau in southwest France, was known by police here or overseas and if he had been under surveillance before bringing the drug into New Zealand earlier this month.

The arrest followed Customs and police co-operating with other agencies domestically and internationally, such as the Australian Border Force.