I haven’t seen much news about Kim Dotcom lately. You may remember he is the larger-than-life German entrepreneur who made headlines four years ago when he was arrested in New Zealand in a local police operation instigated at the request of the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The Americans wanted Kim and his partners extradited to the Land of the Free to face charges of copyright infringement, money laundering and criminal conspiracy.
The charges relate to a file sharing company Megaupload these guys set up in 2005 in Hong Kong. If the New Zealand Government decides to send them to the USA (which seems pretty likely), and they are convicted, they face prison sentences that will run into decades. You’ll remember Chelsea (Bradley) Manning got 35 years for blowing the whistle on US shenanigans in Iraq, but at least he’s an American citizen, which the Dotcom team are not. Doesn’t worry the Yanks though. Julian Assange (an Australian citizen) is still under Ecuadorean protection in their London embassy to avoid a similar fate.
Well, the extradition hearing has begun in New Zealand, and I read an interesting article published in The New Zealand Herald focusing on the plight of one Finn Batato, Megaupload’s advertising manager who is one of the defendants. If you’re interested, you can read the article for yourself, but for me the most interesting snippets came near the end, where the writer, David Fisher, asks some interesting questions: ‘Was the case motivated by Hollywood?’ and ‘How is it the US’s business?’ – given that they accused are not US citizens and the company was set up in Hong Kong.
In answer to the first question, Fisher says, ‘Hollywood certainly pushed Washington to go hard on filesharing websites, including Megaupload. In 2010, the White House made intellectual property – and copyright – an issue of national security. The movie and music industry was described as a cornerstone of the US economy and in need for protection from rogue Internet businesses.’
To the second, he says, ‘The original prosecutor, Neil McBride, the US attorney for East Virginia, said in 2012: “I’m convinced that most emails in the world at some point transit through servers that sit somewhere in the Eastern District of Virginia, so that gives us venue.” By venue, he means jurisdiction, and that means US law travels with the Internet.’
That’s why the trial, if it comes to a trial, will be held in the state of Virginia. And I have to tell you, I don’t have a lot of confidence in the current government of New Zealand to stand up to the US of A. Dotcom was granted residency in NZ despite his known criminal record in Germany, on the strength of his considerable wealth – New Zealand’s tiny economy is subsidized by a fast track process granting generous privileges to mega-rich foreigners.
At the time of his arrest he was living in a leased mansion in the electorate of New Zealand’s multi-millionaire, free marketeering former banker Prime Minister, John Key. Mr Key subsequently switched loyalties after discovering that Dotcom was targeted by the FBI. A former member of Mr Key’s National Party, former cabinet minister, one-time mayor of NZ’s largest city and self-professed creationist, John Banks, was recently cleared of accepting a pay-off from Dotcom to help with his 2010 mayoral campaign. Originally convicted by NZ’s High Court and obliged to leave parliament, Banks’ conviction was overturned by the Court of Appeal on the basis of sworn (but questionable) evidence by two American businessmen.