When Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom and several others in the organization were arrested in raids a month ago, it was noted by prosecutors that Dotcom’s rather wild lifestyle and propensity for spontaneous international travel, combined with his vast wealth, constituted a serious flight risk. He was denied bail at the time, at least until Feb. 22, when the US was to turn in its extradition paperwork.
And today in New Zealand, or rather tomorrow (it’s the 22nd in NZ), Dotcom was released under a number of conditions: he will have no Internet access, will not travel 80km from his home except in emergencies, and no helicopters would be permitted to fly to his property.
[image: Elliot Kember]
The reason for his being granted bail appears to be that investigators found he did not in fact have the resources to flee New Zealand. They say he is “highly disorganized” in money matters, and his main resources had been seized. It seems hard to believe that a person running a site the size of Megaupload, living in a $30 million house and with contacts all over the world, wouldn’t have any kind of backup plan in case of exactly this event (he is not entirely without foresight: there was a shotgun in the room where he was arrested). But the burden of proof is on the police to show that he does have those resources, and they could not do so.
Dotcom was released to a swarm of reporters, who asked him all manner of questions; he responded only that he was happy to be returning to his wife and kids, that he planned to fight his extradition, and that the way the cops treated him “felt a little bit like an audition to American Idol.”
On the legal front, the U.S. now has until March 2 to get its extradition paperwork in, but the extradition hearing for the four arrested will not be until August. Last week U.S. prosecutors added wire fraud to the heap of charges, and noted that not only were Megaupload’s user counts inflated, but less than one out of ten of those users had actually uploaded a file. Dotcom’s lawyers, on the other hand, insist this is at best a civil case and that the U.S. was overplaying its hand. The charges, they say, don’t merit extradition.
The fate of the site, meanwhile, is still hanging in the balance. It’s a simple matter of fact that whatever illegal activities in which the site may have been engaged, there were also perfectly legal files on there, access to which was abruptly cut. One hopes that a solution will be presented that allows, perhaps, one day’s access of users to their own files, but the U.S. Government doesn’t appear to be very concerned with this particular kind of collateral damage.