Fran O'Sullivan: Dotcom farce calls for new police inquiry

Police have compromised a serious international case by passing on copies of information seized from the Dotcom mansion under invalid warrants. Photo / Natalie Slade
Police have compromised a serious international case by passing on copies of information seized from the Dotcom mansion under invalid warrants. Photo / Natalie Slade

It is extraordinary that police have again overstepped the mark by illegally seizing evidence from Kim Dotcom's leased Coatesville mansion to bolster US allegations that he has indulged in internet piracy on a massive scale.

After their Keystone cop antics in the Urewera raids (where evidence supposed to prove the accused Maori were baby terrorists was ruled invalid due to police failure to get the relevant warrants) the police should surely have been exceptionally careful not to blow another high-profile case by illegally obtaining information.

But Justice Helen Winkelmann has ruled that the police warrants were invalid. By releasing cloned copies of Dotcom's hard drives to the FBI for shipping to the United States, police have also contravened a direction that the seized items were to remain in the custody and control of the Commissioner of Police.

This is an extraordinary state of affairs that ought to worry all New Zealanders.

There are business people who play at the margins like Dotcom clearly does. But if the police feel they can thumb their noses at due process to help the FBI line up Dotcom, you would have to assume the police culture is so wanting that there will be instances where they deploy a similar cavalier attitude to line up others facing lesser allegations.

It's this point that ought to worry Attorney-General Chris Finlayson. Not how Crown Law and the police can get the Dotcom case back on track.

The Winkelmann judgment is quite clear. It's the police who now stand accused of breaking the law by illegally taking material from Dotcom's leased mansion and forwarding it to the FBI in the United States. This is a major issue.

My own view is at a philosophical level, being that the police behaviour is not that far removed from that of what Dotcom is accused of - helping himself to material that doesn't belong to him without getting proper authority.

There is another reason why police should have been doubly careful.

The Kim Dotcom story was always going to appeal to those Kiwis who harbour a "Don't mess with us" response to outside bullying - particularly by the United States. With this in mind, surely the Solicitor-General and the police should have been very sure indeed that the Coatesville raid and subsequent actions were legal and that everything was done by the book. Not jumping to attention when the FBI snaps its fingers in a fashion that makes it look as if the US has sovereignty over New Zealand.

Since police launched their helicopter swoop at the FBI's behest, the internet entrepreneur has carved himself out a heroic image within New Zealand newsmedia. Megaupload's catchy marketing ditty - "M-E-G-A, send me a file today" - trips off the tongue of the many Kiwis who have been captivated by the skilful manner in which the German entrepreneur played with MP John Banks' reputation, held "Twitter parties" with select media and basically "stuck it up" the authorities.

Dotcom is a master PR man. He certainly has some New Zealand newsmedia in the palm of his hand.

But the Megaupload piracy case also has important ramifications that go well beyond the histrionics of this colourful import.

Megaupload had more than 150 million registered users and 50 million daily visitors, according to the FBI indictment. It was estimated to be the 13th most frequently visited website on the internet (4 per cent of global web traffic). Users uploaded material to the company's sites which then created links so it could be distributed. The company was hugely successful. Dotcom is lauded by some major players like Apple's Steve Wozniak. But Hollywood hates him.

The US Government wants him extradited to face allegations of breach of copyright, conspiracy to racketeer and money-laundering. The case - if it goes ahead - will test the boundaries in this area.

But it has now been contaminated by police ineptitude.

During her second term in Government, Helen Clark ordered a wide-ranging inquiry into police conduct which was supposed to lead to a major internal overhaul. But their subsequent actions in the Dotcom case show that at the highest level the police still consider themselves a law unto themselves. This cannot be brushed under the carpet. Time for another independent inquiry.

- NZ Herald

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Head of Business for NZME

Fran O'Sullivan has written a weekly column for the Business Herald since its inception in April 1997. In her early journalistic career she was a political journalist in Wellington and subsequently an investigative journalist who broke many major business stories including the first articles that led to the Winebox Inquiry in both NBR and the Sydney Morning Herald. She has specific expertise in relation to China where she has been a frequent visitor since the late 1990s. She is a former Editor of the National Business Review; has twice been awarded Qantas Journalist of the Year and is a multiple winner of the Westpac Financial Journalism Supreme Award.

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