Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Dotcom conspiracy - theory or reality?

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Kim Dotcom. Photo / File
Kim Dotcom. Photo / File

If the current Kim Dotcom conspiracy theory turns out to be a reality, then it illustrates some significant lessons about the nature of New Zealand politics and government. In particular, it says a lot about wealth and power, and New Zealand's role and relationship to other international powers. Even if the conspiracy theory is invalid it still reveals some interesting, and perhaps disturbing, details about how politics works, as it points to the fact that very wealthy 'high rollers' can be invited to live in New Zealand purely because of their 'spending power', despite 'bad character', FBI investigations, or criminal convictions.

Conspiracy theory revealed

The basic conspiracy theory is that the New Zealand government laid a trap by allowing Dotcom to live here in order that the US authorities could then extradite him to face charges in the US. This theory is given much greater weight by the evidence discovered by David Fisher in his investigative journalism, The secret Dotcom papers and Dotcom: Why wasn't I blocked?. Previously unreleased documents from Immigration New Zealand state that the department was under 'political pressure' to give Dotcom permanent residence.

Of course this conspiracy theory has been reported and debated previously, most notably back in February by Chris Trotter in the blog post, Springing The Trap: Did The FBI Turn New Zealand Into Dotcom's Holding Cell?.



Interestingly, the latest person to highlight and push the theory quite hard is rightwing commentator, Matthew Hooton. When David Fisher's story first broke, Hooton responded to the official denials by taking to Twitter (@MatthewHootonNZ) to say 'ImmigrationNZ CEO Nigel Bickle must quit on mental health grounds after telling SIS about "political pressure" when govt says there was none'. Another tweet from Hooton said, 'This guy Bickle on @NzMorningReport must be lying. He can't possibly have been as incompetent as he is claiming'.

Hooton then published his own intriguing analysis of the Dotcom/SIS situation in the NBR - see: Nats in crisis over Dotcom SIS file (paywalled). In this he outlines the theory about how the National Government might have granted residence to Dotcom as a favour to the US Government and Hollywood.

Hooton is worth quoting at length: 'all the decisions about his residency application - and the otherwise bizarre behaviour by Mr Bickle and the SIS - occurred the very week John Key, Mr Joyce and Gerry Brownlee were negotiating with Warner Bros over subsidies and law changes to ensure The Hobbit would be made in New Zealand. It's alleged Big Hollywood wanted Mr Dotcom to become a resident of New Zealand because this would make it much easier for Barack Obama's White House and Hillary Clinton's State Department to have him extradited to the US rather than from Hong Kong. (Mr Obama, the Clintons and other Democrats receive huge amounts of campaign finance from Hollywood, remember.) So, Mr Dotcom's camp suggest, there may have been a side deal to The Hobbit arrangement. Mr Key would ensure Mr Dotcom became a New Zealand resident in October 2010 in order for work to begin on his extradition to face trial in the US. The raid on his residence occurred 14 months later'.

Hooton says that the Government needs to explain these 'unfortunate coincidences', and he draws special attention to the timing of the residency decision: 'it was the very morning - Friday, October 22, 2010 - when the dispute between the actors' union and Peter Jackson hit the front pages, that Mr Bickle called the SIS reporting "political pressure" to give Mr Dotcom residency, and the same day the SIS dropped its objections'.

Hooton argues that ex-Immigration Minister Jonathan Coleman's 'cute press statement denying involvement in granting Kim Dotcom residency is insufficient', and that official statements, so far 'lack credibility'. See also, Andrea Vance's Dotcom objection dropped during Hobbit talks, and Greg Presland's Dotcom - Who applied the political pressure?. The New Zealand First party also help illustrate the order of events in the PDF document, Dotcom/PM timeline.

If such a conspiracy theory has any validity, it obviously raises important questions about how government works in this country, as well as New Zealand's relationship with other countries. As the Internet Party leader Laila Harre says, 'What these documents raise is the spectre that our immigration laws and our normal immigration procedures took second place to the desires of the FBI and a foreign government to achieve their objectives. That is not the purpose of our immigration laws' - see: PM asked to explain Dotcom decision.

For blogger No Right Turn, this 'raises all sorts of questions about political interference in immigration decisions' - see: "Political pressure". See also, Russell Brown's Dotcom: Further news of the unlikely. And for another interesting conspiratorial version of some of these issues, see Campbell Live's earlier 12-minute investigation, Who knew what about Kim Dotcom.

For even more questions about what's been going on, see Gordon Campbell's blog post, On the Dotcom emails.

Challenging the Dotcom theory

Of course so far these theories are unproven, and even Hooton suggests they seem 'fanciful'. Blogger David Farrar goes further than this, and says 'I love this conspiracy theory. The Government let Dotcom into New Zealand just so it could extradite him years later. And it was all part of a deal with Warners to film The Hobbit here. This makes people who believe the moon landing was faked look sane' - see: The Dotcom conspiracy theory. He also points out, quite rightly, that 'The beauty of this conspiracy theory is it casts something that was favourable to Dotcom as being sinister'.

For the best official attempt at refuting the conspiracy theory, read Andrea Vance and Vernon Small's Immigration boss rejects Dotcom residency claims. In this, Immigration chief executive Nigel Bickle provides plausible explanations of how the case was handled. He argues that Immigration NZ wasn't aware of any FBI investigation or charges that might have prevented Dotcom's application being successful.

Following on from this article, the Immigration boss then gets a strong character witness from Wellington 'beltway' lobbyist Charles Finny (@charles_finny) who says 'Nigel Bickle is a person of the highest integrity'.

Is the Government's claim believable? Newstalk ZB's Barry Soper suggests not: 'Coleman had been extensively briefed about Dotcom and will have certainly seen his rap sheet, but he's adopting the three monkeys approach by seeing, hearing and speaking no evil. His officials made the decision to let Dotcom stay in the country, but they're claiming there was no political pressure whatsoever, which is tantamount to saying 'Luigi' Peters is about to give up nightlife' - see: Kim Dotcom's next step an intriguing one.

Much of the official explanation rests on the argument that the events were a long time ago, and officials can't remember what happened. There certainly seem to be a lot of 'brain fades' involved in explaining what has gone on. On Twitter, Alex Coleman (@ShakingStick) sarcastically mimics the official explanation: 'No one can remember the details so we can't know for sure what the words of these ancient emails mean, but they don't mean what they say'. Another tweeter, Lamia ?(@LI_politico) complains about the Immigration NZ brainfades: 'Send Omega-3 pills or whatever latest concoction claims to improve memory to Ministers offices and Govt. departments. Sick of this shit'.

Wealth and immigration

According to Immigration documents, Dotcom was granted residence despite his negative factors, because his 'spending power outweighed the negative prospects'. This will increase concerns about New Zealand's immigration policy of 'entry for cash'. Rachel Smalley is quite uncomfortable with this policy, saying that, 'Suddenly New Zealand appears to be a country that can be bought. The mega-wealthy jump to the front of the queue, they get face time with ministers. It reeks of money and power and personal favours shaping the country we live in, regardless of whether or not that is the case' - see: MPs should stay out of immigration decisions.

As Barry Soper elaborates: 'When you've got an immigration policy predicated on letting fat cats with form into the country, providing they bring their money with them, then you open the border to ratbags. Immigration waived Dotcom's good character requirement because he was loaded. They knew of his foreign convictions and the fact that Thailand had declared him persona non grata. Immigration even wanted to keep Dotcom's residency under wraps because they felt it'd look like he'd bought his way into the country. Now that was something of an understatement' - see: Kim Dotcom's next step an intriguing one.

Today's Herald newspaper editorial also rails against the current immigration-for-wealth arrangements in which politicians seem to have so much discretion, and argues for a change: 'An independent panel would be much more sensible' - see: Dotcom saga shows why independent judges best.

On the more radical right, a similar point is made by Act's Jamie Whyte who argues for the same solution: 'The Minister of Immigration should have no involvement in the immigration application process. Nor should any other MP. Immigration applications are an operational matter. Political interference should play no role in them' - see: Politicians, favours and immigration.

Dotcom electoral bomb

On 28 June, Dotcom (@KimDotcom) tweeted: '>>>>>> September 15th A big day for New Zealand THE MOMENT OF TRUTH Event details coming soon'. He has now elaborated on this public meeting, which will be held in the Auckland Town Hall just days before the election - see Brook Sabin's Dotcom prepares to drop 'political bomb'.

This report also mentioned that Dotcom's 'campaign is also highly likely to include leaks about our spies from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden'. And rumours abound about Snowden possessing US intelligence reports describing and mocking New Zealand's subservient and compliant role towards the superpower.

The Dotcom bomb could of course have a major impact on the last few days of the election campaign. The NBR's Chris Keall says: 'As Mr Dotcom's political stunts go, it's a juicy one. And while much of middle New Zealand is unlikely to be moved by any revelation GCSB Minister Mr Key was aware of the accused pirate before January 20, it would help Internet Mana nudge toward the crucial 5% threshold' - see: Dotcom plans to drop bomb on Key five days before election - but Harre in the dark.

But will Dotcom deliver? There is plenty of skepticism on Twitter - for example, Morgan Godfery (@MorganGodfery) says 'I think KDC is trying - failing - to save face. He's come up empty, but is hoping for something - anything - before the election'; and 'If this mythical dirt hasn't come out by now, I just struggle to believe it actually exists'.

Others believe that the PM must have known about the existence of Dotcom while he was applying for residency. For example, Grant Robertson says 'It does somewhat defy belief when you've got Jonathan Coleman, Simon Power, Chris Finlayson, Maurice Williamson, all knowing about Kim Dotcom, all aware of some significant issues and yet John Key didn't find out about that - that's always stretched credibility' - see Brendan Manning's Dotcom promises election eve political bombshell.

Blogger No Right Turn adds that in the new documents released, 'there are explicit references to the need to brief the SIS director, and its unthinkable that he would not in turn have briefed Key' - see: "Political pressure".

It's also worth noting that iPredict has a stock about Evidence contradicting John Key's statement on knowledge of Kim Dotcom to be broadcast or published - and this currently suggests a 27% chance of this happening.

There will continue to be a lot more Dotcom debate, as well as political differences over New Zealand's spying agencies and how they've been operating. For instance, Peter Dunne is now raising the issue of whether New Zealand's spy agencies are accountable enough - see TV3's Dunne takes issue with GCSB 'pillars'. And Andrea Vance reports that tomorrow at 10am, there will be yet another Dotcom-related report released - see: IPCA report on Kim Dotcom spying.

Finally, for more examples of social media discussion on Dotcom, see my blog post, Top tweets about the Dotcom SIS files.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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