David Fisher

David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Kim Dotcommando: Life's no game

To the FBI, he's a criminal colossus. To his friends and business partners, he's a genius. To his family in New Zealand, he's dad. Ahead of the gunpoint raid on his Coatesville mansion, Kim Dotcom spoke exclusively to Herald on Sunday chief reporter David Fisher.

Kim Dotcom was fuming over the indignity of Wikipedia. The online font of knowledge listed his accomplishments as embezzlement, fraud, the handling of stolen goods and insider trading.

His rap sheet bulged, seemingly as extreme and gross as the lifestyle described since police raided his $30 million mansion north of Auckland 10 days ago. The crimes - and his lifestyle - are facets of the truth.

But like many "facts" delivered since the raid, they have done as much to obscure reality as to reveal it. Dotcom told the Herald on Sunday of his frustration.

"I am not a bad person with a bad character," he said in an email before he was locked up.

"Most things that you can read about me on the internet are inaccurate or fabrications.

"I am sure people wonder why anyone would want to post so much negativity about someone like me on Wikipedia. I mean, just look at it, it's all dark and grim.

It looks like I achieved nothing but getting away with numerous crimes."

And now, it seems, the United States would have us believe Dotcom is guilty of an awful lot more -enough to warrant a dawn raid by FBI-instructed police officers armed with military-style automatic rifles. Except, as Judge David Mc- Naughton said last week, it is not yet possible to judge how strong the prosecution case is against Dotcom.

It was "simply impossible", he said, because "the evidence has not yet been filed".

He then sent Dotcom to prison to wait for an extradition hearing amid concerns the 198cm-tall, 140kg German might slip out of the country.

The US Government has yet to present its case. Dotcom sits in prison waiting for its lawyers to file court papers. With no evidence filed, our authorities have seized his assets and frozen his bank accounts.

There wasn't even a car to drive his 27-week-pregnant-with-twins wife, Mona, to hospital the night of the raid when she began suffering cramps and
pains. With a husband in jail and three children at home, she travelled by ambulance through the night to North Shore Hospital for help.

"There's a public hanging going on." That's Simon Grigg's take on the events of the past 10 days.

With 35 years in the music industry, Grigg has watched the Dotcom carnival with increasing despair. First, it was the way New Zealand police carried out the raid - and that it was at the urging of the FBI. Then, as untested accusations were made in court, his discomfort grew as coverage of Dotcom's lifestyle and wealth became a barometer for the tycoon's guilt.

"None of this is relevant. I don't think you can judge a guy by the fact he is lying on a beach in the south of France with a busty woman."

The objection the US has to Dotcom is the way his Mega group of companies operates. Megaupload is the most prominent. The service allows people to share files. According to the Department of Justice, many of those files were copyrighted movies and music.

Also, according to the Department, they claim Dotcom and the six other accused (including three arrested here) did not act sincerely in their efforts to remove copyrighted material. Megaupload was so popular it consumed 4 per cent of the internet's total traffic volume each day. Dotcom said the service was popular in New Zealand and had more than "50,000 daily unique visitors".

"Over one million New Zealanders visit one of Mega's sites every month," he said. From the perspective of the record companies, it is war. Of course, for them it was war when cassette taping became possible, and again when affordable technology allowed music lovers to copy CDs.

In court last week, to give a flavour of the attitudes of those against Dotcom, a lawyer quoted Hollywood's opposition to videotapes in the early 1980s: "I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone."

They had good cause to fear. The Mega websites - now pulled down - were of the sort widely perceived as being the future of music.

This year, Dotcom was planning the launch of Megabox, which would allow artists to earn money from advertising and membership if they allowed tracks to be downloaded free. And he had pulling power. His Megaupload promotional video last month featured Will.i.am, P Diddy, Kanye West, Chris Brown, Jamie Foxx, Kim Kardashian and Lil Jon.

New Zealand's Gin Wigmore even recorded a track for it after a phone call from Neil Finn, the Herald on Sunday understands. She pulled out after her record company complained. The tension was constant.

The record companies and Hollywood railed against Megaupload, constantly listing alleged breaches of copyright. Company insiders say they had to check alleged breaches before taking it down, as record companies would pepper the lists with content owned by others.

Yet, in the Department of Justice's indictment, Megaupload's limit of 5000 copyright takedowns each day was flagged as an example of a failure to honestly comply.

The contrary view was it was a necessity to avoid sabotage.

Grigg, recognised in 1982 with the Record Industry Association Award for outstanding contribution to the New Zealand recording industry, said copyright was critical in protecting the work of musicians so they could continue to produce more music.

"Society benefits because the person holding copyright makes music."

But copyright had evolved - the advent of hip-hop led to widespread sampling of pieces of tracks. The digital revolution led to further pressures, and continues with Dotcom surfing the edge of the wave. Grigg said the record companies had "shot themselves in the foot".

He can't understand why the record companies don't embrace the change, rather than fight it.

"There are FBI guys getting all worked up about this. Someone has got hot and bothered, but there's something bigger here. It doesn't feel quite right."

The raid was trumpeted by Police National Headquarters in an unusually detailed press release, which even gave Dotcom's street address. It went into a detailed account of the items seized, including "several top-end Mercedes, a Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe and a 1959 pink Cadillac".

The statement also described police having to force their way into a panic room where they "found Mr Dotcom near a firearm".

It made no mention that the shotgun was in a gun safe, nor that it was loaded only with a single rubber bullet.

Police media boss Grant Ogilvie now says they were unaware of the detail about the gun safe when the press release was sent out. Dotcom's dash through the house came after two black helicopters landed on the lawn and armed officers spilled from the aircraft with rifles. Police say officers identified themselves- if so, it would have been over the roar of the helicopter rotors during a rapid armed assault. Almost 100 people were involved in the raid.

Personal protection specialist Wayne Tempero - who has guarded the Brunei Royal family, David Beckham and Michael Jackson - had gone out to see what was going on. If Dotcom was watching, he would have seen his bodyguard hurled to the ground and handcuffed.

The former hacker hired Tempero after offering US$10 million for Osama Bin Laden's head (literally on a plate) and amid fear of Philippine kidnap squads.

"Fear" is the word used by lawyer Paul Davison QC to explain why Dotcom hid in the panic room. Another word he uses is "context".

The context is that there are a number of different "Kim Dotcom" characters in existence.

There is the outrageous self-publicist from his earlier days, more than 10 years ago. This is the Dotcom seen cavorting in YouTube videos with Playboy models and racing sport cars across Europe.

Then there is the older, more publicly reticent Dotcom, who lives in his opulent mansion and travels the world with wife Mona and children.

And covering both of those periods is Dotcom the Geek-the hacker, the internet whiz, the gamer who spent almost two months playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 to secure the coveted spot of best player in the world.

It is Dotcom the Geek whose tastes and urges have driven much of the coverage. In forums on the Gameplanet website, the online heart of the country's geek culture, there is a fascination with Dotcom and his lifestyle.

There were the accoutrements of geek life: A gaming room, armchairs side by side with matching flat-screen televisions to enable dual play. The 3m Predator statue, a statue of a Hooded Man.

On Gameplanet, there is a sense that they would live Dotcom's life if they had the money.

Company director Simon Barton says, "There would be millions of people who think a 9ft (2.7m) Predator garden statue would be very cool, myself included."

Ranking well in any online game "takes a lot of time, dedication and skill and deserves some level of respect".

Fellow director Simon Garner notes, "Most gamers probably can't afford to put in the time to get to that level."

Dotcom was unabashed about his lifestyle.

"I have a passion for cars, jets, yachts and toys, the good life in general," he said in an email last year.

His friends had their own glamour. They included hip-hop stars and internationally renowned designer Alex Mardikian. Dotcom took his friends to the cinema, renting out the entire Sylvia Park theatre to do so.

A young Auckland woman has told of being hired to waitress Dotcom's 37th birthday party then being invited to have a drink and jump in the pool with him and his friends.

Tarryn Gordon, 19, tells of silver plates and gold toilet roll holders, wall-to-wall white marble, secret passages, a towering ice sculpture of a motorbike and a giant Pac-Man chair.

"It was insane," the blonde teaching student tells this week's NZ Woman's Weekly.

"There was money like I'd never seen before. I was absolutely shell-shocked with everything he had."

She said Dotcom was pleasant and polite.

"He seemed a bit standoffish, but nice enough."

The sports and luxury cars taken included a Lamborghini, Maserati and a string of Mercedes. Numberplates GOD, HACKER, EVIL, STONED and MAFIA were also seized.

There was also the money-lots of it.

Staff at the mansion now have no income after legal orders froze bank accounts. About 20 people are employed as cleaners and face looking for jobs. Security staff, kitchen and gardening employees are also without an income.

A cluster of staff come from the Philippines, as does Dotcom's wife. They now have no way of being paid and work visas are quickly running out. The house contained giant murals on the walls of family.

The staff all wore black. Almost every room has some sort of a digital photograph frame on which pictures of Dotcom and family constantly cycle. But the Herald on Sunday has been told there have been no substantial refurbishments or renovations carried out on the mansion since he took up residence.

If there was weirdness, much of it came with the property. Local teenagers recount hunting frogs on the property during the construction. The best frogs could be found in the ditch which became a secret underground tunnel. Visitors talk of a bookcase which slides open to reveal a secret passage. There was also the well-publicised "panic room".

Also pre-dating Dotcom were the giraffe and rhinoceros statues - left in place by property owners and Chrisco hamper millionaires Richard and Ruth Bradley. The excitement of Dotcom's arrest led to confusion over what was unusual. There were reports of the swimming pool being filled with imported spring water. In Coatesville, which is not on town supply, every property has its water imported from Albany 3km away, where water tankers are filled from a spring.

The millionaire has diabetes and high blood pressure that make even cool temperatures uncomfortable. He has installed high-powered air conditioning throughout the mansion - but still, he perspires and so he has small towels to hand with which he wipes his hands and face.

The lack of knowledge about Dotcom fed curiosity and suspicion. He invited his neighbours to meet him at the mansion. No one turned up.

One neighbour, unhappy about Dotcom moving into the area, told the Herald on Sunday they wanted him gone.

Asked what was wrong about him, he explained: "He kept asking us for cups of tea."

Neighbours emailed each other about their new neighbour. They even filed complaints with John Key's electorate office nearby about parties and speeding cars.

The concerns were sent around the community and then, by one person, sent to Dotcom. He replied with a tongue-in-cheek email offering money-laundering and tax-avoidance services.

"In all seriousness ... We come in peace. If you feel like it come over for coffee sometime."

Businessman Colin Mitten lives locally. Dotcom was "invisible", he says. "To say he was flashing it about is just not right."

In February 2010, the Herald on Sunday revealed Dotcom's arrival in New Zealand, and that he was leasing the country's most expensive house. A subsequent story suggested he was being investigated for using multiple names to register his fleet of luxury cars. We were wrong - there was no New Zealand Transport Agency investigation- and we apologised.

He sued, he said later, because the claim was "untrue and made it look like I did not learn from my past".

"We already felt like being in a witch hunt in NZ."

All he wanted to do was to live in New Zealand and raise a family here, he said.

"My family and I deserve to be treated fairly and with respect."

We reported how Dotcom had been granted residency in December 2009, detailing his convictions - and that those convictions were declared even though they had been wiped by "clean slate" laws.

"Officially I am as clean as it gets," he said.

The convictions were minor. In 1998, Dotcom was convicted in connection to computer hacking from 1994, as the 18-year-old son of a violent drunk tried to reinvent himself as King Kimble the First.

Dotcom said he then turned from the "dark side" of the internet and became a "white hat" hacker-one who worked for the forces of good.

"When I became a white hat hacker a lot of black hats (the bad guys) got in trouble and some of those individuals are making sure that my public profile looks the way it does."

Living in Munich, he would hang out in the popular P1 nightclub, models on either arm, buying drinks for celebrities and businessmen. He hired a yacht in Monaco, where semi-naked women were sprayed with champagne by the pool as the black-clad Dotcom looked on proudly.

But another conviction, this time for insider trading, followed in 2003. It amounted to ignorance around a new law, Dotcom explained.

"I was in my mid-20s and never had any bad intentions with this transaction."

So he moved to Hong Kong, where he based himself in the $12,000-a-day top floor of the Grand Hyatt Hotel. Visitors had to be met downstairs by his butler, who would escort them to a private lift, then along a corridor upstairs with the letters M-E-G-A embossed on the wall.

On arriving in New Zealand, the Dotcoms tried to buy the home they lived in, applying to the Overseas Investment Office for permission. The officials approved the purchase, as did Land Information Minister Maurice Williamson.

Justice Minister Simon Power overruled everyone in September last year - a month after the US Department of Justice made a formal and secret application to New Zealand for help to investigate Dotcom.

At the time, Dotcom emailed: "This doesn't make sense. The New Zealand Government is basically telling us, 'You are welcome to invest here, create jobs and live here but you can't buy the home you desire for your family.'

"I have paid the price for my mistakes, learned my lessons. I have earned the right to live in today and the future, not in the past.

"Today, I am a family man with different priorities and I spend a small fortune on legal advice to keep myself and my businesses out of trouble.

"In New Zealand, murderers have been released from prison within a decade. You would think that the NZ Government believes in giving people a second chance."

Kim Dotcom emailed the day Mona had a pregnancy scan confirming twins. He was excited, but added, "I hope you can imagine the mental stress my pregnant wife has to deal with right now. All she wants is to be happy in our new home."

Dotcom said he wanted his children to grow up as New Zealanders. There are three - Kimmo, Kaylo and Kobi- and the twins who are yet to be born.

"New Zealanders might not yet understand how fortunate they are but when the time comes New Zealand will be one of the most desired countries to live in and its wealth could reach unexpected highs."

The children have chickens and rabbits at Coatesville. Kimmo had his birthday party on Wednesday - it had been planned for Saturday. Dotcom and his son share the same birth date. Dotcom spent the day in prison.

"We are on the tall poppy radar and in the cross hairs of some powerful people," he said recently.

Dotcom was right.

Famous friends stand by Kim

Hip-hop stars and an internationally-regarded motorcycle designer were among the silent supporters of internet tycoon Kim Dotcom at his court hearings this week.

"Kim's Krew" sat quietly at the rear of the North Shore District Court as Dotcom was returned to prison to await an extradition hearing for copyright and money laundering charges.

Musicians associated with the Black Eyed Peas were among their number - Sleep Deez, Papo Besson and the group's producer Printz Board. The group are the backbone of the multi-platinum and Grammy award-winning music production company Beets & Produce.

Printz Board, who has co-written hits by the Black Eyed Peas, started the production company.

Also among the group was motorcycle designer Alex Mardikian, who has designed bikes for members from ZZ Top and the Stone Temple Pilots.

- Herald on Sunday

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