Following the massive raids on Megaupload and its operators in January 2012, there are few signs that the case is progressing at anything greater than a glacial pace.
Notably, Kim Dotcom and his former business associates continue to live in New Zealand despite efforts by authorities in the United States to have them extradited to face trial.
Dotcom is clear, however. Every time there is a push to tighten the noose, the entrepreneur fights back. This will not be a battle easily won by either side, and the Megaupload founder is as determined as ever to maintain his comfortable and privileged life.
But consider for a moment if it all went wrong. Imagine the final, final appeal fails and an order is handed down for Dotcom to be extradited to the United States. How might that play out?
Thus far, former Megaupload programmer Andrus Nõmm is the only person from the case to have faced justice in the United States. He was sentenced to a year and a day after traveling voluntarily to the United States last year.
In all, Nõmm served just over ten months, a sentence dwarfed by the five decades or more faced by Kim Dotcom. But despite the comparatively short time inside, the 37-year-old Estonian says his experience was still pretty miserable.
In an interview with Estonian journalist Toivo Tänavsuu just republished in English by Ars Technica, Nõmm says that things were bad from the outset.
“I was held in a detention center for a few weeks, and that was worse than prison. You share a closed room which is maybe two by three meters, and you only get out for six to seven hours a day. There are no beds. You only get a 3-4 centimeter thick piece of polyurethane foam which you can lay down on the concrete floor,” Nõmm says.
While Kim Dotcom was held in prison in New Zealand following his arrest in 2012, conditions were better than this. Nutritionally, markedly so.
“They gave us enough [food] so that we didn’t die. I was starving all the time,” Nõmm reveals. “There were three or four different menus with a list of different things: hamburgers, meatloaf, steak. But no matter what you asked for, they always brought you a tiny, bland burger.”
But accommodation woes were only the beginning. The Estonian says that when he appeared in court in Virginia, the agreement he’d signed with the U.S. before departing his former home in the Netherlands had been lost.
“I actually had to sign a paper with counts to which I hadn’t confessed — for example, the claim that I knew that Megaupload was earning millions. We signed the new agreement half an hour before the hearing. They used very specific English in court, but nobody was interested in whether I needed an interpreter or not,” he says.
As Nõmm set off to serve his year in prison, he did so on a bus, in shackles.
“You don’t get any food, you can’t go to the toilet, and sometimes you drive for 12 hours straight,” he says.
“They never send you straight to where you’re going. You drive through a number of other prisons first. If you make trouble, say by complaining to the judge that your rights are being violated, you’re put through this thing called ‘diesel therapy.’ They bounce you back and forth between prisons like a ping-pong ball.”
The Megaupload programmer was on the bus for 16 hours, stopping off en route for a 10-day stay in a supermax prison and eventually landing at Moshannon Valley prison in Pennsylvania.
“The prisoners were in barracks, 80 men to a block. There were five buildings altogether, each of them with six blocks like some kind of big hospital. Most of the inmates did sports. I wasn’t interested in body-building or getting tattoos. I just walked around for hours or read,” Nõmm says.
“I read a lot, four or five books a week. I scribbled some plans and specifications for my projects, or watched stupid American TV series. I took Spanish and Chinese courses. Not much of either stuck, but at least it took up my time.”
While Moshannon Valley is a lower-risk facility, it certainly wasn’t a walk in the park. Nõmm says that everybody had to work for at least 20 hours each week “unclogging the toilets, digging pits, painting, or helping sort the books” and for this the inmates were paid 12 cents per hour. For scale, a pack of coffee cost $4.
Nõmm survived his ordeal and says that prison hasn’t changed him. Notably, however, he has nothing good to say about Kim Dotcom, despite the Megaupload founder giving him a job and openly supporting the Estonian on Twitter.
“[Dotcom] is only saying that to make himself look better. He even tried to go into politics in New Zealand to win the elections and change the law so they couldn’t extradite him,” Nõmm says.
“He understands that social media has a massive influence. Civil war within Megaupload isn’t in his best interests. He’s this martyr, this freedom fighter.”
With Nõmm’s sentence served, he’s now a free man and can largely put his Megaupload ordeal behind him. Kim Dotcom cannot say the same and Nõmm believes that authorities in the United States will ultimately get their hands on him.
“He’ll eventually end up in the US. He’ll most likely throw everyone under the bus. Kim’s only interested in Kim,” he concludes.
Whatever happens next, Dotcom won’t want to spend fifty minutes in a U.S. prison, let alone 50 years. He’ll spend every penny he has left to stop that from happening, but this is just the beginning.