In the long-running case of the U.S. Government versus Kim Dotcom, almost every court decision achieved by one side is contested by the other. A big victory for the U.S. back in March 2015 is no exception.
After claiming that assets seized during the 2012 raid on Megaupload were obtained through copyright and money laundering crimes, last July the U.S. government asked the court to forfeit bank accounts, cars and other seized possessions connected to the site’s operators.
Dotcom and his co-defendants protested, but the Government deemed them fugitives and therefore disentitled to seek relief from the court. As a result District Court Judge Liam O’Grady ordered a default judgment in favor of the U.S. Government against assets worth an estimated $67m.
Following a subsequent request from the U.S., New Zealand’s Commissioner of Police moved to have the U.S. forfeiture orders registered locally, meaning that the seized property would become the property of the Crown. Authorization from the Deputy Solicitor-General was granted April 9, 2015 and an application for registration was made shortly after.
In response, Kim Dotcom and co-defendant Bram Van der Kolk requested a judicial review of the decision and sought interim orders that would prevent the Commissioner from progressing the registration application, pending a review. The Commissioner responded with an application to stop the judicial review.
In a lengthy decision handed down this morning, Justice Ellis denied the application of the Commissioner while handing a significant interim victory to Kim Dotcom.
Noting that the “fugitive disentitlement” doctrine forms no part of New Zealand common law, Justice Ellis highlighted the predicament faced by those seeking to defend themselves while under its constraints.
“The application of the fugitive disentitlement doctrine to a person who is exercising a bi-laterally recognized right to defend an eligibility hearing, with the result that he is deprived of the financial means to mount that defense, is to put that person on the horns of a most uncomfortable and (the plaintiffs would say) unconstitutional dilemma,” Justice Ellis writes.
Recognizing that Dotcom and Van der Kolk have a “substantial position to preserve”, Justice Ellis says there would be “very real consequences” if they were unable to do so.
“If the provisional view I have formed about the unavailability of post-registration relief is correct, authorizing the registration application to proceed now might deprive the plaintiffs of any ability to defend the extradition or to pursue their appeals against the forfeiture order in the United States,” Justice Ellis said.
“I have little hesitation in concluding that interim relief should therefore be granted.”
The New Zealand Commissioner of Police is now barred from taking further action to register the U.S. forfeiture orders until the court indicates otherwise.
Kim Dotcom informs TorrentFreak that his New Zealand legal team are “relieved” by the decision and can’t wait to “get back to work and beat this bogus extradition case.”
Elsewhere, the battle continues. Dotcom says that the decisions handed down in New Zealand will be presented in Hong Kong in an attempt to get more assets unfrozen there. Over in the U.S. there is also much work to be done.
“Our US lawyers are still bound by the US forfeiture judgment and won’t be allowed to accept funds from my unfrozen assets without a significant risk to them, unless the US government allows that, which is unlikely. But we have appealed the US Forfeiture judgment in the US and the team is optimistic that we will prevail,” he notes.
Megaupload’s U.S.-based lawyer Ira Rothken joined Dotcom in welcoming today’s ruling.
“We are grateful that the NZ court ruled in favor of fairness, natural justice, and due process today by stopping US efforts to take Kim Dotcom’s NZ assets for doing nothing more than opposing extradition to the US – a country he has never been to,” Rothken said.
In closing, a fiery Dotcom reiterated his intention to keep battling.
“The big fights are yet to come and I can’t wait to expose the US government and Hollywood for the most unlawful and corrupt law enforcement action ever taken against an Internet service provider. US attorney Jay Prabhu, the DOJ clown who lost control of the Megaupload domain recently, will only find a job at the MPAA after we are done with him,” Dotcom concludes.