Following the 2012 raid on Megaupload and Kim Dotcom, U.S. and New Zealand authorities seized millions of dollars in cash and other property.
Claiming the assets were obtained through copyright and money laundering crimes, the U.S. government launched a separate civil action in which it asked the court to forfeit the bank accounts, cars and other seized possessions of the Megaupload defendants.
The U.S. branded Dotcom and his colleagues as “fugitives” and won their case last summer. However, Megaupload’s legal team soon appealed the verdict and defended its position in the Fourth Circuit appeals court this week.
During the hearing Megaupload Appellate Counsel Michael Elkin pointed out that it was wrong to rely on the ‘fugitive disentitlement‘ doctrine, as Dotcom and his former colleagues were merely exercising their legal right to defend themselves.
Ira Rothken, Kim Dotcom’s Lead Global Counsel, informs TorrentFreak that the District Court’s decision denied defendants’ basic rights and violated due process.
“We asked the Fourth Circuit to rule in favor of fairness, natural justice, and due process by stopping US efforts to take Kim Dotcom’s global assets for doing nothing more than lawfully opposing extradition to the United States—a country he has never been to,” Rothken says.
Rothken believes that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) wrongfully labeled the Megaupload defendants as fugitives and hopes the appeals court will undo the verdict.
“The DOJ in our view is trying to abuse the Fugitive Disentitlement Doctrine by modifying it into an offensive weapon of asset forfeiture to punish those who fight extradition under lawful treaties, and a provocation for international discord.”
“Today we asked the Court of Appeals for justice,” Rothken adds.
Megaupload’s defense is not alone in this assessment having previously received support from a group of prominent legal experts.
The Cato Institute, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Institute for Justice previously submitted an independent brief in support of Megaupload, describing the assets grab as a dangerous violation of due process rights
“Stripping the claimants of their due process rights isn’t just unconstitutional, it’s dangerous. There’s a growing literature on the abuse of civil forfeiture and those abuses are directly tied to the protections given to the claimants here, as well as the ability of government officials to directly benefit from forfeitures,” they wrote.
The crux of the appeal is whether or not the District Court’s order to forfeit an estimated $67 million in assets was right. According to the Government it was, as the defendants’ due process rights were not violated.
During this week’s hearing Assistant U.S. attorney Jay Prabhu denied any wrongdoing. According to the Government, Kim Dotcom and his colleagues were properly labeled as fugitives. The U.S. feared that Dotcom would get his money back if no action was taken and filed the civil case “as a last resort“.
The case now lies in the hands of the Fourth Circuit appeals court. Their decision will be crucial for the criminal trial, but the Hong Kong and New Zealand courts also have to weigh in on the verdict, as many of the contested assets are located there.