Russell Blackstock is a senior reporter at the Weekend Herald and Herald on Sunday.

The fall of the house of Dotcom

He’s gone from folk hero to a lonely man rattling round in his mansion and now Kim Dotcom is facing a return to prison.

It's one of the biggest houses in the country, but the walls are closing in on Kim Dotcom as he rattles around his mansion.

His wife is suing him, his lawyers have dumped him and last week Judge Nevin Dawson limited his travel. Dotcom is banned from using helicopters, travelling by boat or going more than 80km from his home.

He was also ordered to report to his local police station daily ahead of a bail hearing tomorrow.

Many of his trappings of success will surely be of little comfort these days.
He has called his beloved Coatesville palace his "golden cage". However, since his wife Mona and their five kids recently moved into a nearby house following their separation in May, he lives there alone, with a handful of helpers for company.

Three years ago the mansion bustled with up to 50 employees but that is now believed to have dwindled to fewer than 10 people, including a butler, security men, kitchen staff and gardeners.

Former friends say in between looking after business interests, Dotcom is likely to spend much of his time in front of a giant TV screen in his large console room playing computer games, or feeding his swans and touring the rolling 24ha gardens in a golf cart.

Even his favourite poker table is under-used these days as few close friends drop by for the high-stakes games favoured by risk-taker Dotcom.

"Kim is a very resilient guy but he must feel like he is rattling around in that house now," a friend told the Herald on Sunday. "He has everything that money can buy but the mansion must now seem more like a fortress than a home."

And the question that must be haunting him is "How did this happen?"

Never has New Zealand seen such a spectacular fall from grace.

Larger-than-life Dotcom, a German, arrived here in 2010 like a conquering hero with the lifestyle of an international rock star, despite a number of criminal convictions overseas.
It wasn't long before his toys - including millions of dollars worth of luxury cars with the now-infamous collection of vanity plates - were on display.


Cars are among luxury items seized from the Dotcom mansion during a 2012 police raid. Photo / Natalie Slade

He donated heavily to the Christchurch earthquake relief fund and paid for a $500,000 fireworks display on New Year's Eve 2010 in Auckland.

Dotcom was soon elevated to folk-hero status after a number of run-ins with the New Zealand authorities.

An armed police raid on his house in January 2012 led people to believe the Government was in the pocket of the Americans, gaining him a lot of public sympathy.

The tycoon was arrested along with three others on FBI charges of criminal copyright violation.

As time went on he won court case after court case that exposed questionable Government actions. People liked the idea of the big guy taking on the bigger guys and fighting against abuse of power.

We loved it as he asked John Key: "Why are you turning red, Prime Minister?"
We enjoyed easy laughs as John Banks couldn't remember helicopter trips to the Dotcom mansion.

And we believed Dotcom over the politicians because he was standing up to authorities we didn't feel we could trust.

He was also popular with youngsters, who liked his Megaupload business because they could get their hands on entertainment content here they couldn't otherwise get.
Dotcom was also the world's No1 ranked Modern Warfare 3 computer game player, which further cemented his street cred.


Working on his rap album at Roundhead Studios. Photo / Steven Mcnicholl

"Kiwis are generally suspicious of characters who come to live here in a blur of ostentatiousness," says Dr Rosemary Overell, lecturer in cultural studies at Otago
University.

"Because of his obvious wealth, at first Dotcom was regarded as being a bit 'up himself', but his battles with the Government soon turned him into an anti-hero.

"Even though he is rich, he was seen by many as being the victim of unfair harassment and that struck a chord with the public."

Dotcom became so popular among young people that students began writing about him in their final assignments, Overell adds.

"He was seen as being this internet freedom fighter and computer game champion who was taking on the big bad boss John Key.

"The authorities played into Dotcom's hands and soon he was being seen as being 'one of us'."

Dotcom's halo fell off in the run up to the General Election in September. He sank $3.5 million into funding the new Internet Party, which joined Hone Harawira's Mana in a gamble that failed, and saw Harawira lose his seat.


With party leader Lalla Harreatthe official launch os the Internet Mana campaign. Photo / Fiona Goodall

Dotcom promised a big "Moment of Truth" revelation that would bring down John Key's National.

His "big reveal" turned out to be an email that purported to show the Prime Minister was involved in a plan to get the internet entrepreneur into New Zealand so he could be extradited to the US.

On the day of Dotcom's big announcement, the email was dismissed as a fake.
Six days later, after his party's poor showing in the election, he declared that he had "poisoned" his brand. He took the stand to shoulder the blame - but his fall from grace was complete. The hero had become the villain.

Political commentator Bryce Edwards believes Dotcom's world began to unravel long before that. His demise can be traced back to March, when he launched the Internet
Party.

"Dotcom was an unusual phenomenon, an aberration, even, that had never been seen in New Zealand politics before," Edwards says.
"He was a very popular guy but perhaps he underestimated the level of scrutiny he would come under as soon as he was seen to be bankrolling a political party.
"His attempted transition from uber-capitalist to man of the people did not seem real to most folk."

Edwards reckons another blow was that a lot of people just don't like political parties and they see most politicians as being untrustworthy.
"Kim suddenly went from this kind of Robin Hood figure to being a political party boss who perhaps had a personal agenda, so people started having doubts about him.
"He was seen as being a power behind the scenes and this looked even more dodgy.
"The Moment of Truth debacle was the final nail in his political coffin. I doubt there will be any coming back from that."

Political warhorse Sue Bradford quit Mana in May when the party's alliance with Dotcom's Internet Party was unveiled.

The partnership proved disastrous at the polls and lost Mana leader Harawira his Te Tai Tokerau seat.

"The whole thing was a very uncomfortable intervention in the New Zealand political landscape," Bradford said. "I told the party right from the start that money doesn't lead to success.

"I thought Kim was a strong and charismatic speaker but a feeling arose that he was using Mana as a vehicle to secure himself a permanent home in New Zealand, which is understandable, but people could see through that."

Internet party leader Laila Harre yesterday announced that she was stepping down as leader of the party. She told TV3's The Nation the "negative" focus on Dotcom was a distraction. "We were kind of in a lose-lose position". Harre said she was no longer being paid by Dotcom and had intermittent contact with him via text message. "Kim is focussing on his legal issues, obviously that's at a critical point." Harawira did not return requests for interview.


In North Shore District Court. Photo / Greg Bowker

A campaign insider, however, insists Dotcom did not throw cash around like confetti in a bid to buy success.

"In any dealings with the Internet party everything was very much above board," the source said.

"Everyone was paid on time, including wages and expenses. Kim was very well thought of and there was a lot of admiration for the way he could deal with massive and complex personal, legal and business issues yet always remain upbeat and positive.

"He was certainly not the dictatorial monster that he has been made out to be by some former employees. Kim will bounce back."

New Zealand Herald journalist David Fisher, author of The Secret Life of Kim Dotcom, says the bubble began to burst when Dotcom became obsessed with bringing down John Key.

"Before he got involved with the Internet Party Kim told me he suspected it would lose him a huge amount of support," Fisher says.

"I think he underestimated just how powerful this backlash would be.
"He seemed very focused on getting revenge on John Key, who he blamed for destroying his business. That kind of attitude did not go down well with Kiwis, who began to question whether they should believe a guy with a grudge and facing serious charges, or the hugely popular Prime Minister."

Ironically, Dotcom's honesty in shouldering the blame for The Moment of Truth fiasco could turn into his saviour, some academics believe. The moment he declared his brand had been "poisoned" could be the pivotal moment in his resurrection.

"The idea that he put his hands up and was 'copping it' went down well with the Kiwi psyche," cultural studies expert Overell says.

"He showed contrition and New Zealanders love a good redemption story.
"It is hard to imagine that anyone using their personal failures as a promotional tool would go down well in many other countries, including America.

"But if Dotcom can also play up on being a concerned family man who only wants the best for his children even though he has split from his wife, he could claw his way back into public favour here."

Dotcom has simply become a victim of the trend for people to be fascinated with the rich and famous, says Lorna Piatti-Farnell, senior lecturer at the University of Auckland's school of communications studies.

"Because Dotcom had the flash cars, the mansion and the attractive wife he was perfect for a feeding frenzy on social media," she says. "Dotcom was very clever at creating an image of success that people around the world wanted to buy into.

"A phenomena like him can go global overnight, but can quickly fade when the public moves on to the next big thing.

"The same applies to other popular icons, including actors, actors and political figures.

"Whether Dotcom can resurrect himself is anybody's business."

And whether he can do it in New Zealand is out of his hands. He faces a fresh bail hearing in court tomorrow and is still fighting extradition to the United States.

Back in Coatesville, a choice of sumptuous jacuzzis to relax in and empty luxury bedrooms to choose from will likely provide little consolation.

There maybe a focus on whether stricter bail conditions are imposed tomorrow in the wake of convicted murderer Phillip John Smith's recent embarrassing escape to Brazil,
says University of Auckland inter¬national law expert Bill Hodge.

Dotcom has had a number of legitimate name changes and could have access to a number of passports, Hodge says.

"It's just like the old adage - one day you are a rooster, the next you are a feather duster."

The story of a tycoon . . .

August 2009: Visits New Zealand for the second time, buys cars valued at $3.2 million and leases a helicopter on a stand-by basis
December 2010: Arrives in New Zealand as a resident
January 2012: Police raid the mansion, arresting the tycoon and three others on charges of criminal copyright violation
February 2012: Granted bail and released from Mt Eden Prison
April 2012: Reveals he donated $50,000 to John Banks' mayoralty campaign in 2010
June 2012: High Court rules the warrants used to seize Dotcom's property were invalid
March 2013: Wins a Court of Appeal ruling allowing him to sue the GCSB
April 2013: Appears in court seeking compensation from police over the raid on his house
March 2014: Announces he has formed the Internet Party
May 2014: Reveals via Twitter he has separated from his wife, Mona
September 2014: Shoulders the blame for the Internet Mana Party's poor showing at the General Election
October 2014: Mona Dotcom files legal papers in the US, staking a $23 million claim on the fortune of her estranged husband
November 2014: Dotcom has his travel movements restricted as part of strict new bail conditions and faces another bail hearing tomorrow (Monday)
June 2015: Extradition hearing on the criminal copyright violation charges is scheduled to be heard

- Herald on Sunday

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