David Fisher

David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

How Dotcom won fight for number plates

David Blackmore is passionate about luxury cars such as Lamborghinis. Photo / Getty Images
David Blackmore is passionate about luxury cars such as Lamborghinis. Photo / Getty Images

The origin of the exotic cars and number plates belonging to internet mogul Kim Dotcom lies in the crumbling fortunes of a multi-millionaire property developer.

The public watched astonished as one luxury car after another was taken from Dotcom's $30 million North Auckland mansion after a police raid.

For David Blackmore, it was an echo of the day he watched his own fleet of luxury cars being seized after defaulting on a $1.25 million loan to Dotcom.

As well as the cars, Blackmore lost the distinctive GUILTY, MAFIA, POLICE, STONED, GOOD and EVIL number plates, which had led to so much speculation about the oddity of Dotcom.

Car-crazy, tattooed and obsessed with the number 666, Blackmore previously owned the plates and some of the cars which were then seized from Dotcom at the order of the United States Department of Justice.

Among them was the Lamborghini LM002, the "Rambo Lambo" which Blackmore and pornographer Steve Crow took to the infamous Gumball Rally in 2006 in an eight-day, $200,000 odyssey of fast cars and friendship.

It was the Gumball Rally over which Blackmore and Dotcom bonded in Hong Kong when they met at the $12,000-a-day Grand Hyatt suites rented by the internet tycoon. As Dotcom said: "There is a bond with a fellow Gumballer".

Blackmore borrowed $1.25 million and put cars and the unusual set of number plates up as security for the debt.

The relationship started amicably but ended in a crossfire of legal letters.

For Blackmore, the money came at a time when his property portfolio was collapsing.

"I thought this wasn't a bad sort of an option. I thought this gives me some breathing space."

At one time, he owned properties worth about $50 million through a string of companies. Now, many of those companies are in liquidation. Reports filed with the Companies Office estimate debts of about $24 million.

In that, his story mirrored other former giants of the property market.

"The money dried up," he said. Property worth $10 million was suddenly worth half that. He had two mortgages on property and said one lender insisted on a third mortgage to restrict his ability to borrow more money.

So, when Dotcom emerged with a loan offer, he took it. "I probably wouldn't have got it with the likes of Marac and GE. People have a funny idea that money lenders are there to lend money. They are not. They are there to make money."

The loan from Dotcom allowed him to consolidate all his vehicle debts in one place. The cars were then to be sold to repay the debt to Dotcom, he said.

As the market collapse accelerated, Blackmore found himself trapped.

"You can't just get a lick of paint and another tenant .. you need millions of dollars and it's not out there.

"Annoying would be an understatement. There's a certain amount of stress ... frustration. You have no control over it."

Blackmore began selling his cars, with a Rolls-Royce going for $250,000. The money was paid to Dotcom - and led to a dispute.

In Blackmore's view, the money should have come off the interest.

Not so, said Dotcom's lawyer in the deal, Simpson Grierson partner Greg Towers. "It was not an interest payment."

He said the Rolls-Royce was sold after Dotcom released security on the car. He did so on the condition the money went into reducing the size of the loan.

"Months went by with no interest payments," said Towers.

"We went through the legal process of serving a default notice." Still, no payments were made and the cars and the plates covered by the loan agreement were seized.

The cars were sold through Turners Auctions. Some were bought by Dotcom, although a Rolls-Royce Silver Phantom remains without a buyer.

The plates were sold through Trade Me.

Dotcom won a number of auctions, buying the number plates which became famous on the day of the raid.

Six days later, Blackmore lost his grip on the first of his property companies. Number One Properties Ltd owned three properties in Auckland, including a luxury suite in the swanky Metropolis apartment building. It went into liquidation with the current debt level pegged at $13 million.

Blackmore Trust Ltd followed. The latest receiver's report at the Companies Office pegged assets at $14 million and debt at $24 million.

The company's jewel in the crown was the landmark James Smith Building in Wellington's Cuba St.

It was recently sold and Blackmore now works there, managing the refurbishment.

He expects to be bankrupted.

"Nothing much has changed for me - other than I have I don't know how many millions in personal guarantees, which will bury me in the end."

- Herald on Sunday

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