David Fisher 's Opinion

David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

David Fisher: 'If I die, don't stop digging' - Dotcom

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The flamboyant German internet entrepreneur no longer trusts the NZ police, the government, the prime minister. The only certainties he has left are his wife and family

Kim Dotcom's family is the centre of his world. Photo / Michael Craig
Kim Dotcom's family is the centre of his world. Photo / Michael Craig

The first time I met Kim Dotcom, we talked about the FBI, online piracy and being locked in a New Zealand jail. But mainly we talked about our kids.

At the time we had three each, all of the same ages. Just months after the January 2012 raid which changed everything, his brood swelled to five with the arrival of twins. They hang out together at the luxurious Coatesville Chrisco mansion, waited on by a band of staff and nannies.

From Dotcom's perspective, this lifestyle is what he stands to lose if extradited to the United States and jailed on charges of online piracy.

It is almost two years since New Zealand became a prison for Dotcom and his three co-defendants, Mathias Ortman, Finn Batato and Bram van der Kolk. They face extradition to the US on charges of running a massive movie and music pirating operation through the Megaupload website.

Since first meeting Dotcom, I've interviewed him dozens of times at length.

He hasn't avoided a single question but his actions, as much as words, have been fascinating each time I've gone behind the mansion walls.

The enduring constant in all of this has been his family. They are central to his world, and are the least public aspect of what has become a very public life.

To my knowledge, the picture in this newspaper today is the first time Dotcom has allowed the entire family to be photographed by media. Not that it was his choice - it was wife Mona who made the call.

Kaylo, Kimmo, Kobi, Keera and Kylee are a delight, as children are. My three often tag along when work life smudges across home life, which has taken them places as varied as a prison and watching a cycle race between an MP and a blogger.

My daughter Zoe, now 5, has long believed she is a (yet-to-grow) giant. When meeting Dotcom, she took great comfort knowing there were other giants in the world. They've played with Dotcom's kids and connected at that lovely level children do. Mine, however, are baffled at the Dotcoms' fluency with the technical accoutrements of life. Like their father, the Dotcom children are of a future that is well over the horizon.

Dotcom's own father was a dark figure in his life, one who brought violence into his childhood. In contrast, Dotcom is overly attentive and gentle. And indulgent, always indulgent.

When the children find him, in the sprawling mansion in which they all live, they approach the man-mountain with delight, clambering to the summit. Everything stops for this, as happened during the many interviews for The Secret Life of Kim Dotcom.

Everything stops for Mona, too. It's a sweet thing, watching the couple together; they are incredibly affectionate with each other.

There was a Tui billboard this year which mocked the marriage: "She clearly married Dotcom for his body." It was a jibe with snide humour around age and size differences. They are impressions that seem to matter more to others than to the Dotcoms.

In the wake of the raid, they were broke. Worse, they almost immediately owed a fortune in legal bills and debts were piling up as their fortune was locked away.

I asked him if he was ever scared she would leave him. Not that, he said. Instead, he was scared he might convince her to go away. He talked of considering asking her to return to the Philippines, where luxury is cheaper and she would have family support.

The question was one of the few times I've seen him look baffled - why on earth would they be anything except together?

It would have taken some convincing. Mona certainly stands her ground. The two call by phone from various parts of the mansion, using each other as sounding boards for whatever is unfolding on any given day.

Mona is measured and to-the-point in her counsel. Dotcom suffers no fools in his life and marriage is no exception to the rule.

If there's any foolishness, it's where it should be - with the kids. They come in and engage, intent on what they have to say and the answer they will get.

It is interesting to see the children, dwarfed by Dotcom's expanse, pay no matter to his 2m height and 175kg bulk. Adults who encounter Dotcom often edge backwards for perspective - the children only move closer.

When I deliver a copy of the book this week, Kimmo perches on his dad, wriggles in for comfort and studies the book as Dotcom leafs through the pages.

"It's me," Kimmo exclaims, studying the pictures. Mona tries to sweep him off to bed.

"It's too early," Dotcom protests, bamboozled by time. He had risen at 4pm that day, working to a different body clock.

"It's 7pm," she reminds him. No, says Dotcom, just a few more minutes. Kimmo stays for a while, considering the book with his father's face on the front, before Mona wrests him away to bed.

Kimmo, who shares a birthday with his father, turned 3 the day of the raid that changed their life.

It's an odd lifestyle they enjoy. The mansion seems to me extraordinarily, unnecessarily opulent. To them, though, it is obviously their home in more ways than simply bricks, mortar and the $30 million price tag.

Dotcom has his favoured spot, in the covered courtyard in his preferred chair at the head of a long wooden table. As summer nears, the children swim in a pool nearby or play in the maze across the garden.

It has changed, obviously, since before the raid. Court documents reveal the rent of $1 million a year was almost matched by staff costs; the record shows 19 iPhones were seized by police.

Documents obtained in writing the book chart the family's course around Europe on a holiday in the winter of 2011. They took shipping containers filled with their own furniture so they would have their own bed, chairs and other luxuries when they stopped for a few days.

They rented two of the largest, most luxurious super yachts in the world while travelling between ports in some of the cars seized in the raid.

Images in the book show Dotcom pulling up before the Vatican in Rome with "GOD" plates. It's an incredible stunt, in close competition with driving through Italy with "MAFIA" plates.

In interviews, Dotcom has talked of his frustration of living in New Zealand with extraordinary wealth. There was little to spend the money on - the restaurants weren't what he was looking for, there were not shops capable of meeting the indulgences he wanted to explore.

"It is really hard to find things that are sophisticated and of a quality. When it comes to lifestyle, the kind of lifestyle that rich people are used to - you just don't have that here."

In contrast, now, the lawns are not clipped as regularly, the housekeeping staff has been reduced to a solid few and the indulgences which came with massive fortune are absent.

Still, five nannies are on duty and bodyguard Wayne Tempero is there to run an eye over visitors. The butler meets guests at the door, escorting them through a home denuded of expensive artwork seized as proceeds of a crime yet to be proved.

The mansion has its public and private areas: guests shown through the main entrance tend to be ushered through to the courtyard. They don't see the library filled with books bought by Tempero in 2010 to fill empty shelves, the sumptuous sitting room with a fireplace big enough to stand in, or the gaming room with linked Xboxes and La-Z-Boy chairs big enough to seat Coatesville's most ardent gamer.

Even so, with about $80 million locked away as part of the raid, it is a lifestyle constrained. The successful launch of Dotcom's encrypted cloud storage site Mega in January has buoyed financial prospects. It was a marker in the shifting sea that has been Dotcom's mood.

When released from prison, there was none of the overt confidence displayed now. That came, in my view, when Act MP John Banks suffered his embarrassing memory loss and Dotcom publicly helped remind him. The surety with which Dotcom nailed Banks' hide to the wall brought focus, initially turned directly on the case before him and then on building a new fortune.

The launch of Mega a year on has revealed a strident Dotcom with momentum and anger.

There's no doubt that Dotcom believes himself to be innocent of the charges against him, and there are good arguments that suggest the FBI will have a hard time winning its case.

And so he perceives his life as having been hijacked, with about $80m taken from him without cause and his family and colleagues having gone from global travellers to being trapped in New Zealand.

The failures of police and the illegal action of the Government Communications Security Bureau compounded to produce in Dotcom a complete lack of faith in our system of government.

He simply doesn't believe anything he is told, even under oath, by our police, spies or the lawyers acting for them. The lack of faith is such that, at times, he has wondered if his opponents would seek a more permanent solution. "If I die," he says, "don't stop digging."

It dismays me our government's failures should be so extreme as to inspire such thoughts.

I've often said this story is not about Dotcom, but about how New Zealand could screw something up so completely. Do I think John Key knew? Yes, but not in any meaningful way. Dotcom has made it clear he believes Key was part of an engineered conspiracy and claims to be able to prove it.

I think the mistakes made by everyone in this saga were so stupid that surely, if there were conspiracy afoot, they would have been smarter.

Dotcom keeps getting proved right through the course of the case, and he may yet be about Key. I think Key simply didn't care enough to remember. I don't think anyone involved cared enough to keep the Americans in check - they were simply too eager to help those perceived as friends.

Key thought it was friendship that lay behind the excellent reporting on the issue by TV3's John Campbell - the Prime Minister accused Campbell of being "mates" with Dotcom, which was silly.

When it comes to the FBI charges, I don't think Dotcom really has any mates. The stakes are too high. He faces the prospect of decades in an American jail; his life will be irrevocably altered if he loses.

No Mona, no children, no freedom, fortune or fun.

"I can't believe we let you in here in the first place," I told Dotcom, after finding out the police and Security Intelligence Service knew in 2010 the FBI were investigating him. "We should never have done so."

He agreed - given what later happened, it made little sense, he said. And yet we did and, in doing so, invited what followed and the mess which resulted from it.

Dotcom is fascinating, but the decisions made by a string of public servants and officials have been the real story for me.

Amidst that mess, Dotcom is now completely at home. The anger and frustration has coalesced into an intensely driven need to win - and to win everything.

The actions and decisions by our Government have provided him a huge amount of ammunition - a state of affairs we should all be questioning. As this case has unfolded, New Zealand has suffered collateral damage. It will suffer more as Dotcom fights for his life, lifestyle and family ... and the damage is largely of our own making.

In large part, that's why there is a Kim Dotcom book. The public deserves to know how this mess came to be.

- Herald on Sunday

David Fisher

David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

David Fisher was named best reporter at the Canon Media Awards 2013 for a portfolio of investigations, including the revelations of air force failures following the fatal Anzac Day Iroquois crash; an exclusive interview with Kim Dotcom; the donations to John Banks' mayoral campaign; and a report on the huge ACC privacy scandal. PGP Key here.

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