Earlier this year the U.S. Government won its civil forfeiture case against Megaupload and Kim Dotcom.
As a result the authorities now claim possession of Kim Dotcom’s bank accounts, cars, art and other property worth dozens of millions of dollars.
Last month Megaupload’s legal team appealed the District Court’s decision, pointing out that the court denied the defendants’ basic rights and violated due process.
A few hours ago the U.S. Government responded to the claims. In a lengthy 59-page response brief United States Attorney Dana Boente argues that the District Court rightfully labeled Dotcom and his colleagues as fugitives.
The brief also explains why the Department of Justice decided to file a civil forfeiture case against Megaupload and Dotcom, while the criminal proceedings were still ongoing.
The U.S. feared that Dotcom would get his money back if the DoJ failed to file a civil case. Under New Zealand law foreign restraining orders are only valid for two years, with a possible one-year extension. This extension would have run out on April 18th of this year.
“Therefore, the United States had no realistic alternative to filing its civil forfeiture action if it was to obtain any financial relief for the victims of the Mega Conspiracy,” Boente writes.
Tucked away in a footnote United States Attorney Boente describes the case as a last resort to keep the money safe.
“…this civil forfeiture case was filed as a last resort, over two years after the Fugitive Claimants were indicted when it became clear that they would fight to delay any extradition proceedings, while depleting the proceeds of their crimes to the detriment of their victims and to their own unearned benefit”
“Had the defendants simply appeared to face the criminal charges, the civil forfeiture case would not have been necessary,” the footnote adds.
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.
In the response brief the U.S. notes that Dotcom and his colleagues avoided the United Stated on purpose, which makes it proper to label them as fugitives.
Megaupload’s defense previously argued that they avoided the U.S. because they were exercising their legal right to fight the extradition. However, the U.S. Attorney noted that Dotcom his colleagues had their chance to get due process, if they’d decided to come to the United States.
It’s now up to the Appeals Court to decide whether the U.S. forfeiture order was indeed rightful, or if Dotcom and his Megaupload colleagues should regain control over their assets.
Even if the U.S. wins, the assets will not be available freely. Over in New Zealand, the court granted Dotcom interim relief from having the forfeiture order recognized locally.