A New Zealand court has ruled that Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom, along with three others, can be extradited to the US to face charges. The Auckland District Court judge has said there is "overwhelming" evidence that the defendants should be surrendered to the US.
The verdict has come as a major blow for the internet mogul in the four-year-long political wrangling after he was indicted in the US over copyright infringement on a massive scale. All four defendants are expected to appeal against the verdict until all the judicial options expire.
"It's Christmas. Let's see what Santa has in store," Dotcom told reporters as he arrived in the court for the hearing. Dotcom and his partners – Bram van der Kolk, Finn Batato, and Mathias Ortmann – now have 15 days to move the higher court to appeal against the ruling. The US wants all the four Megaupload founders to face trial on money laundering, racketeering and other charges.
One of Dotcom's defence attorneys, Ira Rothken, posted the following message on Twitter shortly after the court decision: "The @KimDotcom team looks forward to having the US request for extradition reviewed in the High Court. We have no other comments at this time." All four of them will be allowed to remain on bail, which was not opposed by the prosecution. But the prosecutor argued the men should be ordered to report to probation every day as part of the bail conditions.
Upon the release of the verdict, Justice Minister Amy Adams – who has a key role in the extradition process – said: "The first step is to wait and see if the judgement is appealed. If it is not then I will need to consider the court's determination and receive advice from the Ministry of Justice on the relevant issues under the Extradition Act. As the court's decision may be appealed, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further at this time."
When asked whether the government considers an immediate extradition at this point of time as the court said there is a "large body of evidence" supporting it, Adams responded: "I haven't begun to turn my mind to that question...Such a decision would not arise until after the conclusion of any appeal of the legal finding that the respondents are eligible for extradition."
The German-born internet mogul, real name Kim Schmitz, was granted permanent residency in New Zealand in 2010. The controversial case, which is laden with complex twists and turns, picked up momentum after the US launched a paramilitary-style raid at Dotcom's Coatesville mansion – an operation which New Zealand lower court deemed illegal but Supreme Court ruled legal.
The internet entrepreneur launched Mega – the sequel to the outlawed now-defunct file-sharing website Megaupload – in 2013. At its peak, Mega's predecessor Megaupload was said to be responsible for 4% of the world's internet traffic. Dotcom has been accused of becoming rich from Megaupload, which enabled users to share pirated content illegally before it was shut down by the US authorities.