David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Crown lawyers' Dotcom work tops 4000 hours

Kim Dotcom. Photo / Sarah Ivey.
Kim Dotcom. Photo / Sarah Ivey.

New Zealand taxpayers have paid the equivalent of two lawyers' full-time salaries for work on America's bid to extradite Kim Dotcom, according to official figures.

The Crown Law Office has now spent 12 months working on the case since the United States first asked for assistance in July last year.

In that time, according to figures released under the Official Information Act, its lawyers have spent 4041 hours - 101 weeks - working on the case.

Dotcom has recently expressed concern about his own legal bills. He said he owed "millions of dollars" to more than 20 lawyers in different countries.

The internet tycoon was arrested in January and his assets seized after the US asked for assistance under an international agreement. He and three others were charged with criminal copyright violation through his Megaupload website.

Since then, the extradition process has become mired in court challenges.

The busiest months for Crown Law have been February - the month following the raid - and June, when the High Court ruled the search of his home at Coatesville, Auckland, was illegal because the warrant was invalid.

The case is heading back to court next week for a hearing which is expected to reveal details about the January 20 police raid.

Internet law expert Rick Shera said the case was encompassed in a "barrage of legal activity. In terms of appeal, I would imagine they would all be appealed by both parties.

"The issues and the notoriety of the case are such that neither party would want any stone unturned."

Mr Shera said the heightened level of legal activity was also being driven by a crossover between civil courts and criminal courts. The issues in the case were related, yet crossed legal boundaries.

He said the US case - which could lead to $88 million being released to finance legal action - was important to Dotcom.

"It is very expensive and puts the emphasis on the case in the US to access those funds. It may start to prove difficult for him to run a full and valid defence."

Labour MP and shadow attorney-general Charles Chauvel said the number of hours spent on the case by Crown Law was "a lot of time", and he questioned the effort going into it.

He said New Zealand was obliged to assist the US under international obligations but there was nothing which dictated such "unreasonable zeal".

He said it should be among the first items reviewed by incoming Solicitor-General Mike Heron.

"It is starting to stink to high heaven. Why is it being pursued with such ardour?"

Mr Chauvel's comments brought a swipe from Attorney-General Chris Finlayson, who is barred from commenting on cases before the court.

"This is another example of Mr Chauvel's lack of professionalism. It is wholly inappropriate for politicians to discuss matters that are before the courts, or to attack litigation decisions that are delegated to the Solicitor-General specifically so that they are free of political interference."

- NZ Herald

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