January 2, 2022 marked the 10-year anniversary of the dramatic shutdown of Megaupload and other properties in the file-sharing and streaming empire of Kim Dotcom.
For much of that time, Kim Dotcom and co-defendants Mattias Ortmann, Bram van der Kolk and Finn Batato have fought extradition to the United States to face copyright infringement, racketeering and money laundering charges. Over time, however, extradition has been slowly taken off the table for most of the main defendants.
Former Megaupload marketing manager Batato previously had his extradition case dropped on health grounds and today it was the turn of both Ortmann and van der Kolk to reveal that they too will avoid the US justice system.
“New Zealand is Our Home Now”
In a joint statement published via Mega Limited, the New Zealand file-sharing service where Ortmann and van der Kolk now play key roles, the pair recall that after a Supreme Court decision in 2021, they were both ruled eligible for extradition to the United States.
Their case was referred to NZ Minister of Justice Kris Fa’afoi for a final and potentially difficult decision. The details of what happened next have not been revealed but the key outcome is that Ortmann and van der Kolk will not be extradited to the United States, albeit with significant strings attached.
“New Zealand is our home now and we want to stay here. The continuing uncertainty associated with the extradition case has taken a heavy toll on our lives and the time has come to move on,” their statement reads.
“Accordingly, we have reached an agreement with the New Zealand Government and the United States of America under which we have agreed to be charged in New Zealand for offenses similar to those we face in the United States. Once those charges are heard by the New Zealand courts, the United States will withdraw its extradition proceedings against us.”
Given that they are now involved in a new legal process, the pair say they will be making no further comment. The same cannot be said for Kim Dotcom, the most high-profile of the Megaupload defendants, who remains eligible for extradition and could face decades in prison in the US.
Dotcom: “Former Friends” Will Give Evidence Against Me
In a series of tweets responding to the news this morning, Kim Dotcom offered his congratulations to Ortmann and van der Kolk for avoiding the “terrible US justice system”, noting that he doesn’t blame his “former friends” and understands why they have “given up.”
Quite when the friendship between the men ended is unclear. They haven’t been seen in public or pictured privately together for years but Dotcom predicts they will now admit liability and help in the case against him.
“My co-defendants in the Megaupload copyright case, Mathias and Bram, have made a deal with the US and New Zealand Government to accept liability and to become witnesses against me. They will be charged in New Zealand and will no longer face extradition to the United States,” Dotcom writes.
“I’m now the last man standing in this fight and I will continue to fight because unlike my co-defendants I won’t accept the injustice we have been subjected to,” Dotcom continues.
“If I have to go to jail for what Megaupload users did on our site then many Big Tech CEOs are in the same boat with me.”
What Next For The Megaupload Defendants?
Dotcom has a reputation as a fighter and may yet pull several rabbits out of multiple hats to a) avoid extradition or b) pull off an extraordinary win in the United States, should he ever be sent there.
At this stage and after a decade of battles and tens of millions of dollars spent in his defense, nothing can be ruled out. But where once there were many diverse options for a counter-attack, opportunities seem to be narrowing.
By appearing to rule out any deal that would find him liable for wrongdoing either in New Zealand or the United States, Dotcom will necessarily find himself up against legal systems and successive governments that he has continuously labeled as corrupt.
Dotcom’s default stance is that his business was destroyed by Hollywood with vital help from President Biden so in response and over many years, Dotcom has launched personal attacks on both Biden and members of his family. The same can be said of multiple politicians in New Zealand too. According to Dotcom, he cannot get a fair trial anywhere.
This has undoubtedly turned Dotcom into a political hot potato, one that refuses to lie down and says he will reject any deal, even if one was offered to him. On the other hand, the positions of Ortmann and van der Kolk, who have remained largely silent for the last 10 years, are much more certain and at least relatively free from the political complications surrounding Dotcom.
The charges the pair will face in New Zealand are yet to be reported but if they are brought under the Copyright Act, financial penalties of up to NZ$10,000 for “every infringing copy” but not exceeding NZ$150,000 “in respect of the same transaction” are available.
The defendants could alternatively face up to five years in prison but if we take Dotcom’s claims at face value, a guilty plea at the earliest opportunity seems to be a foregone conclusion, so significant 25%+ reductions could apply. Add in the claim that the men are set to offer evidence against Dotcom and the fact they are not violent offenders, they could be eligible for release after serving a third of any sentence.
Previously, Estonian programmer Andrus Nomm, who reportedly earned $3,200 per month at Megaupload, pleaded guilty to criminal copyright infringement in the United States where sentences are usually much harsher.
He was sentenced to a year and a day in prison after going on record that Dotcom and his former colleagues knowingly profited from copyright infringement.