While trying to recoup as much of his seized wealth as possible, Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom is determined to avoid being sent to the United States where he faces the largest copyright case in history.
On four previous occasions the German-born businessman has been granted delays to his inevitable extradition hearing but in March his luck appeared to run out.
Through his legal team Dotcom asked the North Shore District Court for an adjournment until October, claiming that more time was need to prepare his case and those of co-defendants Mathias Ortmann, Finn Batato and Bram van der Kolk. The request was denied.
Last month the parties returned to court with a request for a judicial review.
Today and with some reservations, Justice Sarah Katz at the High Court granted the application, sending the matter back to the District Court to set a new hearing to take place no earlier than September 1.
Justice Katz said that she believed that the delay was necessary for Dotcom and his associates to prepare their cases and have a fair hearing.
“I have therefore concluded, with some reluctance (given the time that has elapsed since the plaintiffs were first brought before the courts) that the interests of natural justice require an adjournment of the 2 June 2015 extradition hearing date,” Justice Katz said.
Previously, legal team issues and associated financing problems have prompted Dotcom to seek delays to his extradition hearing, but this morning the Judge indicated that the current delay shouldn’t herald additional claims.
“This [adjournment] should not be taken by the plaintiffs, however, as a signal that any ongoing funding or representation difficulties (if they arise) would be likely to justify further adjournments,” Justice Katz said.
“On the contrary, the plaintiffs must take full responsibility for preparing for their extradition hearing on whatever new date is allocated, with whatever level of legal support they are able to secure.”
The United States has been particularly vocal on Dotcom’s financial position with claims that the entrepreneur “improperly divested himself” of shares in cloud-hosting service Mega when that money could have been used for his defense. The Judge addressed those claims in today’s ruling.
“[Dotcom’s] Trust Me Trust is said to be a sham and Mr Dotcom’s conduct in relation to it is said to amount to equitable fraud,” the judgment notes, adding that if such an allegation was true, further delays to any trial would not be tolerated.
In the event, Justice Katz said the validity of the U.S. government’s claims would be determined in separate proceedings.
“For present purposes I must give Mr Dotcom the benefit of the doubt on the issue. Further, the assets of the Trust Me Trust, whoever may ultimately be entitled to them, are currently subject to freezing orders,” Justice Katz wrote.
Finally, Dotcom co-defendant Finn Batato, who previously applied for legal aid due to a poor financial situation, will now have to defend himself after that application was turned down. However, that is not viewed as a problem by the Judge.
“Mr Batato will be able to derive significant benefit from the work undertaken by his former legal team prior to their withdrawal. He will also derive significant benefit from the fact that the other three plaintiffs are legally represented and the plaintiffs are taking a collaborative approach to extradition issues,” the judgment reads.
While today’s judgment appears to rule out further delays to Dotcom’s extradition hearing, the history of this case has shown us to expect the unexpected.